Great friend I grew up with passed away. Can't make his funeral.
December 26, 2013 5:51 AM   Subscribe

A great friend of mine passed away. I can't make his funeral in another country tomorrow, and feel really guilty. Should I/what can I do?

I met him when I was 8, and I'd spend every spare hour I had with him, till I moved away to another country when I was 14. We still kept in touch and holidayed every other year or so. While we were growing distant in the last year or so and not being into the same things any more, I still loved being able to see him. I last saw him in August, and he said we should really go on holiday soon because he felt he had a lot to tell me. I think I always just assumed once I was settled, lifewise, I could make up for lost time with him, and that he'd be around, meet my kids or whatever. He drowned while swimming in the sea next to which we grew up, on Christmas day at 5am. I found out a few hours later. His family's Muslim, and Islamic custom states that the burial has to happen as soon as possible, and I'm home from unviersity for the holidays but left my passport at my university town flat. I was up all night last night seeing if there was a way that I could go there, come back and still get a flight from England to India and make the funeral, tomorrow morning, but it all seemed like I was cutting it fine, and would cost about 2 and a half grand, money that neither me or my family can cough up that easily. If I'd brought my passport with me, like I always did, it would've been a lot easier to make the funeral.

I feel quite beat up and an idiot about having left my passport at university, and I don't really know what to do. The idea of sitting here, twiddling my thumbs during the funeral of someone who was one of the biggest people to my life feels really strange. I've spoken to his father, sister and brother, and from the sounds of it at least, I don't think they were expecting me to be able to make it, but the phone calls were quite rushed and I can't really tell. Should I go anyway, even if I miss the funeral, and just be around? Is it fine to just wait, and eventually visit him where he was buried? I think his brother said that he'd try and call me with his sisters around once things are less hectic, but I don't know.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total)
I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your friend's family.

People know that money and location will hamper your ability to travel to your friend's funeral. I am sure that his family understand and appreciate your concern and have NO expectation that you will beggar yourself to attend the funeral. I'm Jewish and we too have a 24 hour time-limit on burials, so I completely understand what you are going through.

Write heartfelt letters to his family explaining how much your friend meant to you. Long after the chaos of his sudden death has passed, they'll be able to reflect on the love and affection you have for your friend.

In our culture, sending flowers or food to the family is a traditional expression of respect. Is there a way you could arrange this for your friend's family? If not, is there another custom you could observe that would allow you to be there in spirit? Another thing to do is to make a contribution to a charity that meant something to your friend. Is there a Mosque that you can send an honorarium to?

Perhaps you can pray or offer a blessing where you are at the time when the funeral will be taking place. That will help you connect with your friend and to allow you to say your goodbyes.

Friends and family understand that sometimes it's just not possible to be there, for funerals, weddings, baptisms, and other life events. What's important is that the love we feel is felt by those who are in our thoughts.

Attending the funeral would have been a nice gesture, but it is wholly unnecessary.

Forgive yourself, you've done nothing wrong. What happened was sudden and unexpected, you could not have imagined it or planned for it in a million years.

Hang in there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:04 AM on December 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

First off, my sympathies for your lostt.

Next, forgive yourself for everything. Forgive yourself for growing apart. Forgive yourself for thinking you had plenty of time to catch up. Forgive yourself for leaving your passport at home. Life is uncertain. There was no way for you to have known. You didn't do anything wrong.

Do something for yourself tomorrow that you think you both would have enjoyed. Maybe bring a friend who wouldn't mind hearing about him. Share what he meant to you. Then pland a trip to India down the line so you can pay your respects and when airfare won't cripple you economically.

And use this as a lesson to cherish those around you. We're only guaranteed now. Embrace those who mean something to you while they're here.
posted by inturnaround at 6:08 AM on December 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss, and I agree with the sentiments of other posters here.

Guilt can come from feeling powerless, and of course you'd feel powerless in this situation. But you didn't do anything wrong--it's not like you left your passport behind knowing this would happen, right?

When I lose someone, I like to have a conversation with that person. The contents change depending on the person, but it is a comfort. Then I have a night where I do a lot of that person's favorite things in their honor. Those are some things that comfort me.

Whatever it is that comforts you, I hope you find solace.
posted by mermaidcafe at 6:24 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think his brother said that he'd try and call me with his sisters around once things are less hectic, but I don't know.

So I am Jewish and we've got roughly the same tradition: body needs to be in the ground ASAP, whether people can make it or not. And because of that, there's hardly been any resentment because someone wasn't able to make it. When my mom died, her best friend couldn't be there, because she was out of the country at the time and that was okay because there's only so much you can expect out of a person in that short timespan, especially with the expenses involved.

Take his brother at his word. It's a really, really hectic time right now; if you can't do anything to help them, do your best to stay out of the way until you can. And as far as the guilt is concerned? It doesn't sound like you're twiddling your thumbs, doing nothing. It sounds like you are feeling awful about an awful thing and grieving and I guarantee that being present at the funeral wouldn't be any sort of antidote to the feelings you're having.
posted by griphus at 6:37 AM on December 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Talk to the student chaplain at your university, either Muslim or your faith if any, and ask him to help you offer prayers for a friend who died far away. Most faiths have some "official" prayers and blessings for this (very common) situation and it may help you to mourn to do something a bit official.

My family had a no-passport-handy, different-continent death situation and it was tough, but what was most healing was when the mourners went for a week-long visit six months later, when no one's grief was quite so fresh, and spent time with her family and community and visited her favorite places and talked to people about her. It sucked at the time when they couldn't make it for the funeral, but the "memorial visit" six months later was a powerful force of comfort and healing. Memail me if you want details, I don't mind sharing my similar story but I don't want to threadjack.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:39 AM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have traveled to Africa, middle east, and Asia and lived among Christian, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. Generally, all is forgiven at funeral attendance, regardless of faith. Your prayers are most important in their eyes. The funeral is usually for the very close (physical proximity and blood relations), therefore you are absolutely not expected to attend. However, I believe there will be periodic commemorations of his life in the first year, one of which you can attend with the right advance planning.

Don't feel guilty - many faiths use the suddenness of death to remind everyone how precious the present is, and not to punish those who were not able to attend the funeral ceremonies.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:50 AM on December 26, 2013

So sorry for your loss. I am sure the family understands why you can't be there. I agree with the other suggestions to write them letters about your friend, your memories, and how much he meant to you. On the day of the funeral, do something to honour your friend, even if it is just going to a movie that you know he would have enjoyed.

Death and loss are difficult, and a certain amount of pain comes with the territory. Talking to your university chaplain might help you put things in perspective.
posted by navizzar at 6:56 AM on December 26, 2013

When my grandfather died one of my cousins was travelling abroad and we weren't able to get in touch with her right away, and she was unable to come home for his funeral. We felt terrible *for* her. We knew she wanted to be there, and we knew she felt guilty about it, and we wished she could be there with us. The way you feel is normal, and people will completely understand why you can't be there. So sorry for your loss.
posted by mskyle at 7:28 AM on December 26, 2013

A very dear friend of mine died when I was in another country and unable to make it to the funeral, even with more notice than you've had. His family was very understanding, so please don't be hard on yourself about the circumstances.

What I did was write to his parents. They knew he meant a lot to me, but it helped me to say it, and I hope they found comfort in what I said. And several friends were kind enough to help me organize a small memorial ceremony. They'd never met my friend, but it helped me to share with others how important our relationship was.

I'm very sorry for your loss. It's terribly hard to lose a friend. Please try be kind to yourself while you mourn him.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:54 AM on December 26, 2013

Sorry for your loss.

Just to reiterate what others have said, I asked my muslim husband (who lives on the other side of the world from his friends) and he confirmed that under the circumstances, anyone he knows would be understanding of your position, and that the most important thing is to reach out to the family, which you've done.

Having said that, it's harder than many realize when you can't be there with family and friends when a loved one is laid to rest. You need to forgive yourself for not being there, and cut yourself some slack in the next few months as you grieve. I missed my grandfather's funeral for similar reasons and it was really hard to be in a place where no one shared my grief.
posted by scrute at 8:38 AM on December 26, 2013

Focusing in on what others have said already - I think an e-mail to the parents or other family immediately expressing your regret that you can't make it, followed up by a card immediately, and, if you can afford to do it, a visit to see his relatives at a later date, are both all that's reasonable and would be very valuable to both them and you.

I especially think a visit at a later time would be in order. There is a point in the grieving process about 2-3 months after a death that seems to be very hard for spouses and parents. It's the point at which most of the deceased's friends, acquaintances, co-workers, etc. have dropped out of site. All the bills are generally paid related to the funeral/burial. And now everyone just expects them to pick up and move on. If you can see them around that time, I think it would benefit both them and you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:56 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm very sorry for your loss. You will know how to grieve later. I'm sure his family doesn't expect anything from you; and they are not in a place where they can look after your feelings either, although I'm sure they will try out of love for your friend, their son.

You weren't meant to be there. Odd coincidences happen around a death, for the people left behind. It may help to think of it this way; not: I always bring my passport, why on earth not this time! but: it is so strange I didn't bring my passport, perhaps later on I will find out that the thing I'm supposed to do for my friend and his family is still in the future.

I hope nothing I've said is hurtful or offensive in any way. A tragedy has happened, you cannot make anything better in any way, but neither can you make it worse, and certainly not by not attending the funeral. But sometime in the future there will be a role or a task for you, or a space for you to grieve with the family, and you will be in a position to do it (especially as you won't be financially overstretched by 2K.) Think of that, as you grieve. My heartfelt sympathy.
posted by glasseyes at 9:02 AM on December 26, 2013

It's okay that you aren't there. Funerals are to help those left behind grieve and support the family. Your conversation with his brother tells me you are absolved of doing the latter at the funeral and can do so later on the phone. What if you spend the time when the funeral is taking place having your own memorial for him? Think of your time together, look at pictures, talk to him, pray for him. Whatever feels right.
posted by cecic at 9:05 AM on December 26, 2013

Can you Skype? Can you ask a family member or friend to set it up? Even if it uses a data plan, just to be there? Or long distance phone call? Just hearing it may be helpful. Then as others have said, honor your friend as well in your current location.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:05 AM on December 26, 2013

My deepest condolences.

I had a good friend die a couple of years ago, and the funeral was held across the country. The widow understood that many couldn't attend, so she said that in lieu of flowers, here are the names of a couple of organizations that you could donate to in the deceased friend's name. I helped honor his friend's memory, and I donated money and food to a local food bank. The widow was very appreciative of the gesture.

Maybe their family has/will have something similar set up? Was their a cause or interest that your friend was particularly passionate about?
posted by spinifex23 at 10:43 AM on December 26, 2013

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