Can I just do nothing?
April 21, 2020 5:50 PM   Subscribe

So my mom just passed away. She was sick for a long time, so it isn't surprising, but the problem is she is in the US and I am in Korea. Logistically, I don't think it is possible for me to go and be with my family right now. Emotionally, I don't think it is possible for me to not go. Is there like any guidance for this kind of situation?

So, two options, go and don't go.

Go: I will have to self quarantine in the US (I assume?). My dad is 70 so even though I want to be with him, I couldn't risk it anyway. I would also have to self quarantine upon return to Korea. My company has self-isolation facilities so that's possible, but I can't realistically leave my wife with our three young kids for what would amount to like three weeks of time.

Don't go: I feel like I am abandoning my family in a terrible time.

Judging from the above list it seems that my initial impulse to stay in Korea is the right one, but it still feels wrong. Is there any other way I can do this? Has anyone else dealt with this? Advice?
posted by Literaryhero to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This happened to my husband about a week ago. You can't go. There probably aren't even flights. You do have to do nothing, and that's really hard. I'm so sorry for your loss. Memail me if you'd like to talk
posted by lollusc at 6:07 PM on April 21, 2020 [37 favorites]

It’s clear that you can’t go, but I hope that you won’t do nothing. Obviously there are phone and video calls to make. Depending on your religious beliefs there may be ceremonies you need to do. And even without religious beliefs you should do something: prepare her favorite meal, make donations to the poor — do some things that she would appreciate to mark her passing.

Even better would be to coordinate these things with your family. As you say even if you were there you’d be keeping your distance. Sharing an activity can bring you close.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:16 PM on April 21, 2020 [6 favorites]

The inability to "properly" grieve right now is a real thing and would be the case even if you were living in the US. If you aren't living with your 70 year-old father right now you shouldn't be seeing him in person. It is hard but the thing to do right now is stay where you are. You can still speak with your father and family over the phone and videoconferencing. And you can still grieve with your wife and kids in Korea.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:18 PM on April 21, 2020 [4 favorites]

I hope that you won’t do nothing. Obviously there are phone and video calls to make.

Of course, I should have written 'it feels like I am doing nothing by not being there.'

Thanks for confirming what I thought everyone. This sucks.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:20 PM on April 21, 2020 [9 favorites]

I am so very sorry. There is no handbook for this.

I think the rituals we humans practice around death are important. I love what Tell Me No Lies suggests, and I recommend planning for a day, or an afternoon (same as you would for a funeral) to do an activity that helps you remember and honor your mother, and also say goodbye (for the first of many goodbyes). If appropriate, include your children and wife, so they also get a chance to participate as well as provide you support.

Not sure of your family dynamics, but could you coordinate something with family members abroad where everyone can share how they're feeling, memories of your mother, things like that? Again, plan it--make it a day and time that everyone gets together very purposefully for this reason.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 6:45 PM on April 21, 2020 [4 favorites]

We had a family death right at the beginning of quarantine, and the funeral was livestreamed...which I assumed would be a useless waste of time. Instead I found it unexpectedly moving and really helpful in terms of processing my loss. I hope you will be able to participate in something similar.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:57 PM on April 21, 2020 [20 favorites]

We set up a call to help my grandma be able to see my mom's funeral (this was in 2017), because she had had a stroke and there was no realistic way for her to travel to us. It was meaningful for all of us and her to have her there virtually. It doesn't necessarily make this entire situation less awful, but I hope it helps to be able to conceptualize that your options aren't only "travel" or "do nothing". It's absolutely something to be able to participate virtually somehow.
posted by augustimagination at 7:58 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am so, so sorry. This is a terrible loss at any time, and even more complicated emotionally and logistically right now. I want to encourage you to think of how you can grieve from afar for now and also think about working with your family to plan a service for some time in the future when you can all gather.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:59 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

And what you can do: have an informal ceremony/memorial with your family, at your home. Perhaps ask your family to join you via videocall. You can ask your wife and kids to join you and you can share stories about your mom and their grandmother. Ceremonies and rituals can provide tremendous comfort to us humans, and I don't want you not to have that, even if you are pulling together something on your own.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:01 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry. My father died three weeks ago, and my siblings and I could only attend via zoom (separately, from different parts of the country). It was awful, but it was better than nothing. We also sat shiva over zoom using set hours, which made the following days a bit less heartbreaking, because we knew the whole family would be there "together" for those hours every day.

There's never a good time for this to happen, but this feels like a particularly terrible time. But there's no way to safely go.
posted by Mchelly at 8:34 PM on April 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

I lost my beloved uncle right in the first week of quarantine (from an unrelated illness) and, like BlahLaLa and Mchelly, we did a livestream funeral. Two of my cousins were at the graveside with the priest and the rest of us livestreamed it over zoom. It was weird and heartbreaking but we were all witnessing it, we got to say a prayer together, we got to hear each others voices and know that for those few moments we were all thinking of him and loving him. We were reluctant to do it, but afterwards were really grateful we at least had that.
posted by silverstatue at 8:41 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Two close friends have each lost a parent in the last few weeks and could not be with their families to grieve together. One of my friends is retired so she did not change her schedule. The other was working remotely and she took 2 or 3 weeks off. If you are working, take time off now if you possibly can. Spend time with your wife and kids, spend time alone, spend time connecting with all the rest of your family. If it's safe to do so, spend time in nature.
posted by mareli at 5:00 AM on April 22, 2020

I have no idea if this helps, but on the subject of seeing a livestream of a funeral service - for a while I worked at a radio station in a tiny, isolated community with one small town and hundreds of people living in outlying houses many miles away with limited communications/travel opportunities.

Our radio station was set up to be able to relay broadcasts from all of the churches in town, on a rotating basis every Sunday, for the people living outside town to hear. While we never broadcast funerals, the set-up meant that we were able to record them, and we would do that and send them on CD to people who couldn't make it into town for the funeral of a loved one. I handled one of these and though it was for someone I didn't know, even just hearing the close of the ceremony was incredibly moving - These Foolish Things playing over the sound of feet shuffilng quietly out of the church was extraordinarily evocative.

Which is to say - not only could a streamed service be a good thing for you to do, it's also a thing that has been done many times before in communities dealing with isolation - I don't know if it helps to feel like you're not having a freakishly unusual experience but a particular type of ceremony that has a tradition and has brought comfort to many people in the past. It might not be what you'd want, but it is a thing that humanity has used before to deal with the painful combination of grief and isolation.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by penguin pie at 5:57 AM on April 22, 2020 [8 favorites]

It turns out that the funeral will be live-streamed so we can participate. I am worried about my dad (a rabid Fox News enthusiast) and his mental health regarding coronavirus denialism (etc etc), but that's another Ask and I will focus on that once we get through this.

Thanks for the advice everyone, it really helped me.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:29 AM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

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