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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

How do you grieve from a great distance when you can't go to the funeral?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (30620points) June 23rd, 2010

One of my uncles died today. It was not unexpected, but it’s still sad. He is the first of an important generation in my family to go.

I live probably 4000 miles from where most of my family is and can’t make it to the funeral.

I’ve been looking at old family photos, remembering fishing and camping trips, and generally reminiscing. Crying a little.

Have you had a similar experience of loss without the comfort and closure that one gets from a funeral and family gathering? What did you do?

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18 Answers

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

Write it down. Look at the pictures, reminisce of times spent together & write it down in a sort of short story or collection of short stories. It helps to express what you are feeling into a little bit more detail & helps get it out of you. You don’t need to write a personal fact only narrative. Be creative & let the memories & photos guide your story. If you haven’t seen the movie Big Fish, I fully recommend watching it & getting an idea of how helpful creative story telling can be during the time of dealing with love & loss. When you feel like you have written enough, just put the journal away (or hide the text document in a computer folder that doesn’t get opened very much) & maybe when some time passes, you will discover the lost writings & read the stories you wrote that were inspired by your uncle & you’ll feel a sense of comfort & a little less sadness. My condolences to you & hope you find your way through this difficult time.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@rpmpseudonym : Thank you. That sounds like a wonderful idea.

anartist's avatar

As best you can.
If it is not too late make something and send it to someone who will be there, like a poem or story to be read at the service.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I had the opportunity to visit an uncle and a good friend from college in person while they were seriously ill. The former had cancer and the latter was paralyzed from a sledding accident. Both died shortly thereafter.

My father was diagnosed with cancer and given 6 months to live. Since I was far away, the family encouraged me to stick with the already made plans to come home in a month for Memorial weekend. He passed away 3 weeks after we found out and before I made it home. While I wish that I had high-tailed it home to be with my dad, I can now only chalk it up to hindsight. We talked on the phone every other day, and he knew how much I loved him.

Did anyone notice that I didn’t attend my uncle or friend’s funeral? Unlikely, particularly since I lived more than 8 hours away and wasn’t expected.

Whether you make it to the service or not, let the family know how much your uncle meant to you and how much you are thinking of them.

jazmina88's avatar

light a white candle…....and I’m so sorry…..my friend

partyparty's avatar

Yes a dear aunt of mine died in USA. I am in the UK. She was such a lovely lady, but I still had my memories of her. These memories are mine, and I always think of the wonderful things she did for her family.
To have a constant reminder of her, I planted a Kilmarnock Willow tree in my garden. Whenever I look at the tree she is here with me.

Scooby's avatar

I lost a very close friend twenty years ago, he was in the forces when he died, I went off the rails a bit to say the least, I just needed lots of time to myself to grieve, to get my head straight again, it took some time but I got there eventually, we all grieve in different ways, some people prefer to keep busy, some people need lots of love, some people like myself turn inwards & just need to be left alone for a while… But then again I guess it depends on the sort of relationship you have had with the deceased as to how you conduct yourself…write a memoir & have it listed in a local paper that’s what I did.. :-/

PandoraBoxx's avatar

So sorry for your loss. Being away makes it a little harder because the rest of the family has everyone else to grieve with. When my grandfather died, I wrote my grandmother a letter about everything that I ever remembered about my grandfather. When she died 8 years later, my letter was in her purse; she carried with her always.

Don’t underestimate the power of writing and sharing what you’ve written with those who loved him. Each person in a family has a unique perspective and memories of the other family members, and the sharing of the stories helps keep the dimensionality of the person present. I’m sure what my grandmother remembered from the stories was the emotion that my grandfather had a the time of each memory, and my childhood memories brought back the endearing quirkiness of his personality that otherwise would have been lost.

rooeytoo's avatar

I lost a nephew who more like a son to me a few years back. It was very hard. The strange or interesting part is, I was very sad but it was sort of unreal to me because there was so much physical distance between us. I couldn’t return for the funeral. Anyhow a couple of months later a casual friend died and when I attended that funeral, I couldn’t stop crying, it was a little embarrassing, I wept almost uncontrollably. I just figured I was really mourning the loss of my nephew and being at the funeral of the casual acquaintance just made it all real.

Give yourself permission to grieve anyway you need to is the only suggestion I can offer. Sorry mate, life never seems to get easier. Seek out your friends of Bill, they will comfort you and help you to stay safe.

Kayak8's avatar

I have had the experience of “delayed” grief such as @rooeytoo describes above—maybe “misdirected” is a better word. I know that I tend to be a Doubting Thomas in that I need sensory clues (of a fairly high magnitude) to really believe that something has happened because I can be somewhat numb. Having a family member who is at the funeral send me a pressed flower from the funeral or send a photo of the urn/casket or spot at the cemetery are the types of things that help me make the experience real (even if I am far away) and serve as a trigger to get the appropriate emotion moving. You could send flowers and have someone take a picture of your flowers at the funeral just to help reinforce your presence from so far away if that helps you. I will sometimes watch funerals on YouTube or sad movies just to get the cathartic part jump-started for myself.

The most important thing is to be gentle with yourself in the weeks and months ahead. Give your cousins, aunts or other family members close to him a call in about two or three weeks (that is about when friends have moved on and forget to call etc.) Don’t forget to monitor yourself to assess if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired because that can throw you off as well when grief stumbles in and blurs the edges a bit.

BoBo1946's avatar

@hawaii_jake sorry about your uncle my friend!

i just reflect on the times we had together and say quiet simple prayer for him and the family!

Cruiser's avatar

Send flowers and sign in on the online visitor log book and then go camping or fishing and do a little memorial out there in his honor! About all you can do! The surviving relatives will appreciate your long distance remembrances of their loved one.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Send something to the family, so they know you’re thinking of them and then go do something special for yourself. Go to some place quiet and with some spiritual importance to you, and salute the deceased with a special toast that means something to you and the one you lost. The toast can be anything that connects you. I’m sorry for your loss.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Cruiser Great suggestions. I posted a note in one of those online log books one time, and it was helpful in dealing with my own grief from afar.

The first year after losing a loved one is the hardest. You could send a card or call your aunt on your uncle’s birthday or their wedding anniversary, just to let her know you are thinking of her.

wundayatta's avatar

Call some relatives to reminisce. People want company in times of loss. That’s the whole point of gathering together. If you can’t be there in person, then be there as much as you can, virtually – video chat, phone, chat, email, snail mail.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

I lost an aunt (like a mother to me) in the last year. I lost my dad a decade ago. My mother is far away and not well. I’ve been at the bedside of a lot of dying people (friends and family). I have “seen” people after they have passed. It never frightened me, it assured me that they had gone on.

First of all, I know without a shadow of a doubt that the ending of the body does not mean the ending of the spirit. I know that through something that happened to me once. What I do is, I go away by myself…I take a walk or I go spend the night somewhere….I make sure that I am alone. This gives me the freedom to cry my eyes out..to sob if I have to..and to remember them in peace. If I go away for the night, I go to some place that is sacred to me or sacred to the person that passed.

I usually go out into nature and take a candle and light it. I burn sage and sweetgrass and offer it to the Four Directions. I take a book of poems or something I’ve selected to read out loud…some prayers. Then I make up my own prayer. Or I sing or chant. Then, I sit quietly and then begin a conversation with the person as if they were sitting across from me. If you are meditative, you can hear the answers being given back. It really is an amazing experience——to hear that they are well, to listen to what bits of advice or funny observances they have. They are still in existence, not in heaven or hell but in another paradigm of reality, you see. It is very healing. You tell them the things you did not have a chance to say, you cry, you laugh, you remember together…and you listen with your inner knowing to what they have to say to you. Ask them to tell you the things they had not told you. They usually will do that. If they are not at peace about something, they will tell you that and you can assure them that whatever unfinished business they had, you will tend to for them if you can.

My father and I did not have the best relationship. It was only after his death that I was able to finally have that “conversation” with him and he told me something that he had never said to me…something that finally made sense of the chasm that stood between us. I healed with my father _after_his passing and it was as clear a healing as had he sat by me and told me the story (something that was a huge surprise) in person. Finally, after so many years, I had the missing piece of the puzzle and I was at peace and he was at peace.

I don’t care how “woo-woo” this sounds to the literal Western mind….I’ve done too much of this spiritual work in my life to know that it is more real than a body being buried, coffin shut and nothing left.

The soul of a person continues in another dimension of reality…so it is fruitful to commune with them after they pass from our physical sight…but not our inner vision.

I am sorry for your loss and hope that you will find a peaceful way to say goodbye, whatever you choose to do.

CMaz's avatar

“I’ve been looking at old family photos, remembering fishing and camping trips, and generally reminiscing. Crying a little.”

Apparently you are.

Seek's avatar

A good friend of my husband’s was killed last year. We were unable to travel to the funeral, but probably wouldn’t have attended anyway for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it was being held in a Christian church, and his friend had been Wiccan for over 20 years.

Instead, we found a hollow log, stood it up in our backyard next to the water, and nestled a black candle in a pile of salt at the bottom. We sat around it in silence for a while, said goodbye to her, then let the candle burn away.

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