Do I try to fly home just for a funeral?
October 26, 2009 9:58 PM   Subscribe

Should I try to overcome a series of practical obstacles so I can fly to the funeral of a longtime friend? Or just send regrets?

I found out today that a dear longtime friend (a substitute grandfather/mentor figure, really) died late last week. His daughter, who is also a good friend, offered to reimburse me for the plane ticket if I come to the funeral, which is about two weeks from today. (I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area; they are in London.)

My immediate thought was that I wanted to be there (I've known him since I was very small, and he has always been a kind, wise influence in my life). However, there are several obstacles. It will be hard to get more than a week off work; I'm at a particularly brutal point at grad school; I'm a nervous flier; and (the capper) my passport has expired.

Realistically, it's probably a no. But I'm still considering it -- for now. Could I even get my passport renewed that fast? (I've looked at the British Consulate's website, but it seems to be pretty vague about the expedited fee process. I'm planning to visit the S.F. consulate in person if I can get through on the helpline tomorrow.) Has anyone else had to do this in a hurry for a family emergency?

I know that funerals are for the living, and that my friend won't be there, except in spirit. But I think I'd get great comfort out of being part of the ceremony to send him off. (The family is hiring a Routemaster bus to drive around his favourite parts of London before the service!) I can do the flight on Xanax and gin. I could hit the ground running, and see as many people as I could fit into a week's visit around the funeral. It would be mad, and sad, and busy. But it would also be unforgettable.

If I don't go, his daughter says she'll read out a letter, reminiscences, or whatever I want to send her at the service. She won't be offended or upset if I don't go -- she just knows how much her dad meant to me.

I'd appreciate any practical answers, as well as hearing stories of whether you've decided to do something similar.
posted by vickyverky to Human Relations (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As for the passport, go visit the US Passport Office in San Francisco and skip the consulate. If there is less than 2 weeks before your trip, they will expedite it for you.
posted by idiotfactory at 10:03 PM on October 26, 2009

If you can make it to your friend's funeral, I think you will greatly appreciate it.

Start working on the passport issue now.
posted by zippy at 10:09 PM on October 26, 2009

I think if you don't at least try, you'll regret it.
posted by MadamM at 10:12 PM on October 26, 2009

You really seem to want to do it. I think you should.

If you have a British passport, I think two weeks is likely to be enough lead time to get something to go home.
posted by grouse at 10:13 PM on October 26, 2009

posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:14 PM on October 26, 2009

You should go, and you've already laid out the reasons why in your own post

But I think I'd get great comfort out of being part of the ceremony to send him off

If you will get comfort out of it, that's definitely a reason to go. You've suffered a loss, and it's important to acknowledge that loss, even in the midst of what sounds to be a crazy time for you. If you had said that grieving as a group at the funeral (and other events) wouldn't help you, then my answer would be different. This person will only die once, and I think it's important for you to acknowledge them and their influence on your life.

I can do the flight on Xanax and gin.

Ok, well that's maybe not the best solution to nervous flying I've ever heard but it's certainly one solution to that part of the problem. In other words, it seems like you can knock 'nervous flier' off the list since you have a method to get around it.

I could hit the ground running, and see as many people as I could fit into a week's visit around the funeral.

Why does it have to be a week? I grant you that it's a long flight from CA to the UK (oh so very, very long! I remember it well), but if things at work and school are crazy maybe you could take four days or fewer even and address both your need to go to the funeral and the chaos that your life is in right now.

It would be mad, and sad, and busy. But it would also be unforgettable.

And this, right here, is why I think you should at least make an effort to go. The passport, well I will rely on others better informed to give you advice on that (and really, it's probably the only true stumbling block you've presented us with). School can wait--trust me, I just graduated from grad school and from the other side it's a lot easier to see. You can probably get at least some work done on the plane rides, anyway. Work, I would say you can address by admitting that it's not the best time, asking for less time than a week, and impressing upon them that it's a family emergency (that holds a lot more weight than just 'a mentor/old family friend'--you considered this person as family and that's a strong bond).

Finally, make sure that your decision is one that you can live with. If you are too wracked by guilt from not being at school and work to make the time you spend there worthwhile, then don't go. If, on the other hand, you think that you will regret not going to this once-only event, go. My condolences, and I hope that whatever you will decide will be the best thing to do.
posted by librarylis at 10:16 PM on October 26, 2009

It sounds like it would be a great experience to go, so try everything you can to get there. The one-week thing is not an issue, the expense of the ticket is not an issue, you know how to deal with the anxiety, so really it's just a question of getting the passport.
I've gotten a US passport expedited before and it wasn't a bad process, just had to pay more (something like $100 IIRC). If you mention that you're flying back for a funeral and look really sad, someone at the consulate will probably have a heart and help you make this happen.
posted by rmless at 10:17 PM on October 26, 2009

As for the passport, go visit the US Passport Office in San Francisco and skip the consulate. If there is less than 2 weeks before your trip, they will expedite it for you.

I went to a U.S. Passport Office one day before a trip (I had inexplicably lost my passport, and realized it when I was packing) and got a new passport on the same day. I don't see it on the State Department website, but they DO offer same-day passport service.

Call them to get their instructions before you appear at the passport office --- you have to have an appointment, you have to bring proof of your flight/travel plans, and some other stuff. You will not get your passport if you don't have everything they want.
posted by jayder at 10:19 PM on October 26, 2009

Oh, duh, I see you seem to have a British passport. Forget everything I said.
posted by jayder at 10:21 PM on October 26, 2009

Actually it looks like the OP is a British National, so she would have to go through the Consulate.

I say if it will bring you some comfort, then you should go.
posted by inturnaround at 10:21 PM on October 26, 2009

I'm so sorry for your loss. Coordinating this whole thing probably seems even more overwhelming than it would be under better circumstances. Even with all the hassle and feeling overwhelmed, however, I think you should go, because it sounds like you will be glad you went, but may regret not going. It may not be easy, but I think you can overcome the logistical hurdles you mentioned.

Most employers understand extended time off for a funeral, and since you have two weeks notice you can probably develop a solid plan for keeping up with your grad school work. As for the passport, regardless if you need to expedite a US Passport or a UK Passport, you should be fine, as long as you can afford the fees. Lastly, I think your xanax topped off with some gin sounds like a good plan to combat any flying anxiety. I think you know what you need to do to take care of all of this stuff. It's the actually doing it that's hard. If you have someone who can help you out with some of this, I hope you don't hesitate to ask for their assistance.

On a more personal note, I was not able to attend the funeral of my great uncle who was essentially my grandfather because I was not informed of his death until afterward. Consequently, it's never felt quite real to me. Obviously, I know he's gone, but I never really had the type of closure that I personally need and even 3.5 years later, it still bothers me. You may not need the closure a funeral and the events around it can bring, but if you are the sort of person who does, you will be glad you went. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you find comfort in all of your good memories of your dear friend and your time together. Best of luck.
posted by katemcd at 10:36 PM on October 26, 2009

You should go.

My grandmother and I weren't particularly close, but I took a day and flew to her funeral in AZ (I'm in SF) earlier this year. I was in AZ literally long enough to sleep one night, go to the funeral, and get on a plane home. Less than 24 hours. But it meant a lot to my mother and my family that I made it there, and I was glad to be able to honor her that way.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:42 PM on October 26, 2009

I know that funerals are for the living which you are.

Go. Honor your friend and grieve your loss. Share with his friends and family how much he meant to you and receive their condolences.

If you can, go.
posted by 26.2 at 11:12 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I skipped a good friend's wedding (across the Atlantic) during "a particularly brutal time in grad school", because I didn't think I could spare the time or the money. I still regret that. Much of grad school is brutal, and once you get out you're always busy anyway. Don't skip the funeral because of school.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:30 PM on October 26, 2009

Twenty years ago, I didn't go across the U.S. to my college friend's funeral. He was a close friend at the time of his tragic death. Despite donating the "would be" airfare to a foundation setup for him, and attending and speaking at another service held after the funeral back on the East Coast, I will ALWAYS regret not going to his funeral.
posted by c, as in "kitchen" at 11:38 PM on October 26, 2009

If circumstances prove beyond your control and you can't be there, PLEASE don't beat yourself up about it. I've inferred from the post that the daughter completely understands the situation and has suggested a compromise.
posted by brujita at 11:42 PM on October 26, 2009

This is an important turning point in your life and I think you should go if you possibly can. If circumstances prevent you then find some other way to say goodbye to him and don't beat yourself up about it.

But, if I were in your boots, I'd do my best to move heaven and earth to make it happen. You will not regret doing so if you can make it.
posted by fenriq at 11:46 PM on October 26, 2009

1/ It will be hard to get more than a week off work

You don't need to take a week off work. You can go to London for two day and come home. You can comfortably limit this to five days of travel time. People do it there and back in hellish 36-hour round trips for meetings all the time.

2/ I'm at a particularly brutal point at grad school;

Talk to your advisor and make the trip as short as practically possible.

3/ I'm a nervous flier;

Take a Xanax.

My passport has expired.

San Francisco Passport Agency will sort you if you are less than 2 weeks from departure. You MUST have at least an e-ticket when you go.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:14 AM on October 27, 2009

Oh wait.

4/ My passport has expired

If you in fact hold a British passport, you need the services of the San Francisco consulate, which has a dreadful website. Call them, explain there has been a death in the family and you need an expedited passport. Be prepared to be there when they tell you with everything you need. The hardest part will be the passport photo size but the SF office should be able to tell you where to go for that. Hurry, though, because they say they are taking 10 days to process - though in a case like this they should absolutely fast track you.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:20 AM on October 27, 2009

Staff at British consulates always try to be as helpful as possible when there ae genuine reasons for needing a passport renewal in a hurry. Take documentation with you to prove the urgency, and they'll do their best (within the legal limits) to make sure you get it in time. But that raises another point - assuming you are a UK citizen living on a visa in the US: will your US visa be in the old passport? And could that trigger a hassle when returning to San Francisco? The consulate staff can advise you on that one, too. I remember many years ago being in a similar situation: they solved it by stapling the old passport (containing the visa) to the new one and binding them together with a rubbon and a seal - looked impressive! Don't know whether they still do this, but the bottom line is: the passport at least needn't be an issue in your decision.

DarlingBri is right about the passport photo (they have to comply with IATA regulations these days) but the Consulate has a guide you can print off and show the photographer.

Otherwise nth-ing all the others who say go - imagine how you'll regret it for ever if you don't.
posted by aqsakal at 12:29 AM on October 27, 2009

Try your best to go. Nobody can ask any more than that of you. Have a statement prepared if it doesn't work out and send that to your friends daughter. I think you'll regret it if you don't at least try to get there. If you do make it, I'm sure you'll look back years from now and be glad you did.
posted by Taurid at 12:48 AM on October 27, 2009

You don't need to take a week off work. You can go to London for two day and come home. You can comfortably limit this to five days of travel time. People do it there and back in hellish 36-hour round trips for meetings all the time.

Raises hand.

A friend asked me to be godfather to his daughter. They were in London. I was in San Francisco. It was a tough time for me at work and I also could not really spare the vacation days.

Flight Friday late -> arrive London Saturday. Christening on Sunday. Leave Monday which arrives also Monday in SFO. Back to work on Tuesday.

One day off work.

That may be extreme but just letting you know from personal experience that a full week may not be necessary.
posted by vacapinta at 2:06 AM on October 27, 2009

Oh, and I feel I have to add something else.

When my grandmother died, I was in Europe and couldn't make it home to her funeral. I loved her dearly. The whole family was there. I was only one of two people that didn't show up.

Nobody, I mean nobody, ever mentions it. Why would they? I do wish I could have been there but it was just impractical. Long story, but I would have had to jump through incredible visa hoops.

Sometimes you can do it, sometimes you can't. Dont beat yourself up about it either way. Life goes on.
posted by vacapinta at 2:29 AM on October 27, 2009

Nthing all who say go.

When my father died one of the only comforts was the people who came and told us how important he was in their lives.

Your life will never be un-busy, you just need to prioritize that which is the most important. Family is often that. You'll likely regret it if you rationalize not going.
posted by Breav at 5:49 AM on October 27, 2009

Nth go. In a few years whatever temporary difficulties you endure to be there will be forgotten, whereas if you don't go you'll probably still regret it.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:53 AM on October 27, 2009

A close friend recently lost his partner. People came from all over for the memorial services, and our friend was extremely grateful for their presence. If it's even remotely possible, please go if you can.
posted by rtha at 5:54 AM on October 27, 2009

The AskMe chorus doesn't sing like this very often. Listen to them. You owe it to yourself and to the memory of your friend to do everything you can to go and be there.
posted by The Monkey at 6:07 AM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just go. Which decision would you regret more down the line, missing the chance to pay respects to your departed friend and seeing London for a week, or missing a week of work?
posted by meadowlark lime at 6:36 AM on October 27, 2009

If she's in San Francisco as a British citizen, wouldn't having an expired passport be very bad in general?
posted by smackfu at 7:17 AM on October 27, 2009

smackfu, visas and passports are totally separate. A passport's purpose is simply to identify your identity while traveling internationally, it also verifies that you will be permitted to return to the issuing country.

Joining the chorus -- try to make it happen. Definitely mention at the consulate that this is a sudden death in the family. They are not going to ask you to prove that your friend was your grandfather by blood.

(And nthing that if it just isn't possible, no-one will think less of you, and at least you'll know that you tried to be there.)
posted by desuetude at 7:53 AM on October 27, 2009

On the grad school front, this is precisely what advisors are for. Good advisors will help adjust work expectations and deadlines as much as they can in situations of loss, grievance, or personal difficulty -- especially if given enough advance notice (which 2 weeks certainly is).
posted by kitkatcathy at 7:57 AM on October 27, 2009

If circumstances prevent you then find some other way to say goodbye to him and don't beat yourself up about it.

Don't lose sight of this. Try to go, yes - it's definitely not crazy to think it's possible and to put in the effort to do it. But if you find you can't go, consider doing something at home to honor his role in your life. I wasn't able to make it to a very dear friend's funeral once for similar reasons to yours, and friends of mine were kind enough to help me plan a small memorial service for him. This was hugely helpful to me, even though no one at the service knew him other than me.

I'm sorry for your loss, and I hope you can make it to the funeral.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:02 AM on October 27, 2009

Wow, I would have to mark everything in this thread as a best answer. Thanks, AskMeFi, for all your kind thoughts and extremely practical suggestions. (And thanks for not scolding me about mixing Xanax and gin! I know it's not necessarily a good idea, but it has helped me get through some turbulent flights in the past.)

DarlingBri: The Consulate has a dreadful website, you're right. That's why I wasn't sure about the expediting process on the passport, because it says that it currently takes ten days, but then hints that it could be faster than that ... but doesn't really explain why. I'm going to try calling them today or going there in person tomorrow morning.

aqsakal: I have a green card, so I don't think it would be an issue about having the correct visa in my new passport.

vacapinta: That sounds like an extremely hectic weekend you had, but it might be doable. I thought originally that going for less than a week would be a waste of time (I should try to see other friends after traveling all that way), but maybe it should just be a flying visit for the funeral. Especially since someone else has offered to cover my airfare.

brujita: His daughter won't be hurt if I don't go (and realistically, she could probably use the ticket money for herself, which is another consideration).

kitkatcathy: My grad school adviser is out with swine flu, so she isn't available at the moment. I was thinking about this last night, and given that I have time to plan, I can talk to classmates in my group projects and coordinate with them so I don't miss too much. I could definitely do some work and reading on the plane before the Xanax kicks in.

katemcd: My employer would probably be understanding. There's another wrinkle, though: I'd have to arrange cover while I was away, and the woman who covers for me has been really sick with a virus lately.

The wild card in all of this is that I don't know exactly when the funeral is yet. The daughter is holding off until she can get hold of family and friends around the world (he was much loved and had far-flung relatives).

Since I have to renew my passport anyway, I'll make that my priority and then use the next few days to think about this. But thank you, everyone, for your advice. And I've already started planning a tribute/speech that I could send -- or deliver in person.
posted by vickyverky at 10:40 AM on October 27, 2009

Go. My fiance's uncle died and though I really wasn't in a position to take the time off, my manager insisted I go to the funeral. He was absolutely right.
posted by exhilaration at 12:00 PM on October 27, 2009

It will on very exceptional occasions behoove you to remind the consulate that they are there to provide consular services, but genuinely: this (and civil war) is what they are there for. You're a British citizen abroad with a family emergency requiring repatriation; it's not like you're asking them to bail you out of the local pokey (which they won't do anyway.) Be desperate, polite and insistent that they help you if they do not seem inclined to do so.

I am 99% confident that if you have a ticket, a photo and your old passport, they will be willing and able to assist you promptly. Via con dios, and may the force be with you.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:07 PM on October 27, 2009

Staff at British consulates always try to be as helpful as possible when there ae genuine reasons for needing a passport renewal in a hurry.

This has been my experience. The time a few years ago that I needed a temporary passport at very short notice to fly back to the UK for my brother's funeral the Chicago Consulate were very nice to me -- they let me in during their lunch hour, when they were otherwise closed, gave me a cup of tea(!) to calm me down while they did their bureaucratic thing, and were generally sweet and helpful at a difficult time, and they even got everything done in time for me to make my flight.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:16 PM on October 27, 2009

Yes, yes, yes. Go. If not for your own sake, for the sake of your friend's family. We've had a lot of deaths in my family in the past few years and it's hugely meaningful when people come, especially when you know it wasn't convenient for them or some other circumstance would have been a really good excuse. Funerals aren't pleasant for anyone but they're especially unpleasant for the family and having a huge crowd there to acknowledge the loss and say good things at the lunch or wake or whatever else is so much more helpful than I would have anticipated.
posted by crinklebat at 11:42 AM on October 28, 2009

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