Missing a funeral can bring up a lot of emotions, but guilt shouldn’t necessarily be one of them.
Q: “I had planned to attend a funeral with some friends. Because of an unexpectedly heavy snowstorm that day, my friends dropped out. I didn’t know anyone else who would be there — my connection was to the deceased, a former co-worker whom I really liked, but hadn’t seen recently. I decided to stay home. Now I feel so guilty. I’ve heard that many people did attend, and the service was quite wonderful. What should I do?”
I think you’re being very hard on yourself. Most of us feel uncomfortable going to a funeral. It’s a reminder of our own mortality. If there are obstacles to attending, we may opt to stay home, especially if we don’t know the family and our relationship with the deceased was not close. All friendships are not equal and do not incur the same obligations.
Friendships generally fall into one of three categories:
● Best friends are your intimate circle. You share empathy, history, trust and frequent contact. Obligations are also part of the package.
● Good friends are people with whom you socialize. However, you don’t confide in or rely on them to the same degree as best friends.
● Casual friends share a certain situation or activity with you. They may be neighbors, colleagues and co-workers, parents in the same PTA, or participants in your gym class. If the circumstances change — one of you moves to another city or leaves a job — the relationship often fades.
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Your former co-worker was apparently a casual friend. If you had braved the snow and shown up at the funeral, the bereaved would undoubtedly have appreciated your presence. But they probably never knew you existed (and certainly didn’t expect you). They were focused on their own grief and loss.
There are also other ways to pay your respects to the family and honor the deceased. You can simply send a brief condolence note saying something like, “Joe was a great guy. He will be missed. I send my deepest condolences.” If it makes you feel better, you can add, “It was only the snow conditions that kept me away from the funeral.” A printed condolence card with a handwritten line or two works, as well.
Or, you can send a donation to an appropriate cause, charity or institution in memory of the friend. The obituary often mentions the family’s suggestions; if not, you can call the funeral home for such information.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes and Eulogies. Have a question for Florence? Send her an email.