It’s not unusual. You have a vacation booked, a work commitment, or family plans, and then someone dies. The funeral or memorial service is scheduled and you are unable to attend. What do you do when a loved one, friend, or colleague dies and you can’t change your plans? Will the family be hurt by your absence? Do you contact the family ahead of time to explain? Or, do you miss the funeral rituals and not mention it at all?

There are times when it is absolutely unavoidable that you miss a funeral or memorial service. You may have an important work or personal commitment that cannot be rescheduled. When this happens you have various recourses; you can choose to do one or do them all.

  1. If you learn of the death from a family member or friend via an email, you can respond and let them know you will be unable to attend the funeral or memorial service.
  2. You can contact the family immediately via a sympathy note. Express your deepest condolences and share that you will miss the funeral or memorial service due to an unavoidable conflict.
  3. A visit to the bereaved in the weeks following the funeral rituals will be appreciated so if you are willing to visit, share this in your note and make sure to follow through.
  4. If you choose not to let the family know beforehand that you will be absent, there are many things you can do to express your sympathy. You can write a sympathy message or send a card, make a donation in the deceased’s memory, bring a meal to the family upon your return, plan a personal visit, or make a phone call.
  5. It’s in the weeks and months after a death that the bereaved feel most alone. You can truly make a difference during this time with calls and visits. It may be easiest for the bereaved if you offer to pick them up and take them for coffee or a meal. After all the attention immediately following a death, your companionship during this period of mourning may most meaningful.




Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.


Image: Flickr Creative Commons / brian395

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