How to Manage the Loss of a Loved One From a Distance

Author: Janice Miller

It was difficult when my Uncle Ted died earlier this year and I was unable to attend his funeral. I felt like I couldn’t be there for my mom and the rest of the family, which added to my feelings of sadness and grief. I was, however, able to find some creative ways to help my mother and give her the support she needed. It felt like a modest effort, but I could tell it made a big difference for my mom, and it helped me along the way, too.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is one of the toughest challenges anyone will face. When we lose a partner, close friend, or relative, the sadness can be intense. Even though death is natural, it can still cause overwhelming feelings of grief. The pain usually lessens with time, and it is important to move through the range of emotions so you can focus on the wonderful memories you have with your loved one.

Cemetery

When my uncle passed, I felt helpless. I needed to grieve, too, but Ted was mom’s big brother and her best friend. What I really wanted was to be there for her. It’s normal to have a variety of reactions to death, especially a sudden loss. These emotions may be stronger when you live far away and can’t be there for your family and pay your final respects. When you can’t attend the funeral, you may feel left out of the shared experience or isolated as you work through your emotions. It’s not uncommon to feel grief more deeply when you don’t have this opportunity for closure. 

There are steps you can take to help with your grief and support loved ones when you're not able to attend the funeral.  

Find Online Bereavement Support

I was 450 miles away, but I found a large community of people online having a similar experience. After the funeral, I joined an online grief support group and invited Mom to log in, just to see that she also wasn’t alone. For us, it was helpful to have a safe environment to open up.

For anyone else in our situation, I’d suggest looking for a group that has professional moderators: therapists, social workers, or grief counselors. Be sure to examine the rules of the site to make sure they embrace open, honest communication with respect and integrity. Many groups offer live chats or discussion forums based on specific situations. Most importantly, I’d say to make sure you feel comfortable with the other members. I found a new friend who lived just 15 minutes from me. She had just lost a cousin and, like me, was hundreds of miles from home and couldn’t get there on time.

TAPS offers an online support group where you can have easy, yet meaningful, connections with fellow survivors from the comfort of your home. The TAPS Online Community hosts chat sessions for real-time conversations, message boards that provide space for questions and comments, and peer-based sharing groups to drive conversation and connection. Learn more about how to join the Online Community.

Communicate With Your Loved Ones

I used technology to my advantage before, during, and after the service. Skype and Facebook Messenger were lifelines for my mom and me. Thankfully, I was able to “be there” with Mom and everyone else since the funeral home offered to livestream the service. While it’s not the same as actually being there, I believe having that real-time connection to my family helped me avoid an even deeper grief.

If you want to do more than talk, you can help make arrangements from afar. There are plenty of arrangements that can be taken care of over the phone or through email. Writing and submitting the obituary, calling or reaching out to the deceased’s friends and loved ones, and sending flowers or arranging donations in lieu of flowers are a few ways you can take part in the bereavement process.

Offer Support

Everyone handles death differently. Some people go into planning mode and deal with the immediate shock of their grief by immersing themselves in the business of a funeral. Others might be more distraught, not even knowing where to start. You can offer support by helping those in the second group arrange travel plans, order food, or make phone calls. One of the hardest choices for my mom was deciding what to keep and what to purge when she was going through Ted’s personal belongings. After a long video chat, we separated his most cherished possessions to distribute between mom and Ted’s half brother and sister. My oldest son was able to keep an old toy train set he remembered from Christmas at Ted’s one year. Everything else went to the local Samaritan center.

Being away from home when a family member or friend dies can make you feel isolated, uninvolved, and full of guilt. No one is ever prepared for the grief and stress of a major loss. But the memory of a loved one is something to cherish forever, regardless of whether you’re able to travel to the funeral.

From the pen of…

Janice Miller is a retired veterinarian and loves sharing her knowledge about pet safety and care. When she isn’t writing for Safety Today, Janice fosters dogs and helps place them with forever homes.