Showing Grieving Relatives You Care When You Are Far Away

Q. My maternal grandmother died recently in Florida, which is where she and most of my extended family live. My parents and I are 1500 miles away. There was always an awkward relationship between my parents and my mother’s family. After I moved out on my own, I did get in touch with these relatives a few times, although we’re still not close. Regardless, my parents are going to Florida for the funeral and have asked me watch their house and the dog while they’re gone. I feel I have to do this for my mother even though I wish she had asked me to come along. I can’t afford the fare by myself. Is this all selfish talk—or is there some way I can show my grieving relatives I’m thinking of them?

A. This doesn’t sound selfish to me. It’s your grandmother who has died. That’s a loss, even if you weren’t very close. It’s natural and human to feel sad, and perhaps wonder about what might have been, if circumstances were different. And there’s nothing wrong with telling your parents, “I wish I was going with you.“ Expressing how you feel helps process grief and aid healing. You never know. They might reconsider and take you. Too often we expect people to read our minds in complicated situations like this. We may assume, “They should know how I feel.” But often they don’t know. At any rate, what do you have to lose? If you do wind up staying home, there is no reason why you can’t call or write your relatives. You can tell them how much you wish you could be there with them and that you’re thinking of them. It’s unfortunate that so many families are geographically scattered these days, but it isn’t necessary to be there in person to show you care.

Chances are, writing or calling will help you feel better at a painful time for you. In their place, I’d be touched by your effort and really appreciate your concern and thoughtfulness. It might also help to remember that you can visit your grandmother’s grave, if you’d like to do that, at a point in the future if such a trip becomes feasible.

If you have a question for Florence, please email her at


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.  



Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons/Kossy@FINEDAYS

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