Sometimes people that we love die and we cannot attend their funeral. It isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just Facts™. And while, yes, the situation sucks, that doesn’t mean that you suck. Grieving from the sidelines is often a lonely place to be, but it needn’t be a guilty one. It is true that the extenuating circumstances of life – estrangements, job commitments, schooling, child care, pandemics (lookin’ at you, Ms. Rona!), or just plain finances can limit one’s ability to travel. What’s not true is that proximity, while often a catalyst for closure, is universally synonymous with the healing process.
Don’t get me wrong. Healing from trauma, whatever the origin, does not exist in a vacuum, but modern problems require a modern solution, and in the absence of a structured community event, like a funeral or memorial service, it is all the more important to put your metaphorical oxygen mask on first. You cannot be there for others if your internal resources are depleted.
We’re going to identify a few modest acts of devotion that can be performed in a way that speaks uniquely to the pain of your loss while honoring the deceased. The intentionality behind these rituals channels your energies exclusively into mourning the loss of your relationship to the deceased.
I know some of you are rolling your eyes at all this “woo-woo” language. What in the pop psychology is this boi talking about?
Just stay with me, we’re going to get philosophical for a minute.
Rituals are an integral part of everyday life; brewing your perfect morning coffee, doing crosswords in pen instead of pencil, always skipping that one track on your commuting playlist, but never actually taking the song off the list, even how you eat an Oreo – all of these things are rituals! Rituals ground and stabilize us. They provide comfort and help us create order out of chaos. The rituals that make up the cornerstone of the “traditional” funeral ceremony allow for the expression of grief in a supportive, controlled environment. Their structure marshals these big, intense feelings of sadness and grief by shepherding mourners through negotiating the vagaries of life and death. For those who will walk this journey alone, how can these outcomes be adapted to a Ferber-esque method of self-directed grieving?
Self-care, but for grief:
There are plenty of suggestions on how to support a close friend or immediate family member when death occurs, but when you are immediate family or that friend, the instructions are less clear.
Try: Writing it down
- Make time for yourself to sit quietly in a place you feel most comfortable and write a letter expressing everything and anything you felt wasn’t better left unsaid. Depending on your surroundings, you might choose to dedicate your intentions by lighting a candle in the name of the deceased. Once the letter is finished you could burn it, bury it in the ground, or mail it to the cemetery to be placed at the grave site.
- Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings as you move through the grief. What are the things you were grateful to experience with your loved one? What did you like most about them, what irritated you, and what will you miss most? Reflecting on your shared history, good, bad, or indifferent, can be a helpful tool for articulating your thoughts and working through complicated feelings.
Try: Getting creative
- Collage, paint, crayon, whatever the medium, DO. IT. It doesn’t need to be perfect or technical or pretty. It just needs to be authentic to you.
- Do you like to cook? Recreate a dish you both loved. Maybe it was their specialty, maybe it was something you created together, or handed down through generations.
Try: Getting out
- Are you outdoorsy? Head for the hills and commune. Find your favorite spot, whether it be a hiking trail, a botanical garden, the beach, or your own backyard and settle down. Get comfortable and immerse yourself for a few hours, or the whole afternoon. In surrendering yourself entirely to mother nature, you are freed from all expectations – other than just being present in the moment.
- If you’ve got a green thumb, plant something you can remember them by, flowers, a tree, a vegetable garden, or even just a shitty patch of basil you keep on the windowsill.
Try: Going digital
- Organize a photo album on Facebook of your favorite photos with/of the deceased. Consider including a written dedication. This doubles as a low-stakes way of fielding condolences from your larger social circle.
- Many people find online grief forums to be an excellent source of support.
- If you’re up for company, why not try a video-conference memorial service?
Try: Seeking a higher power
- If you are Christian or Catholic, lean into your community and ask your clergy to dedicate mass.
- If you are Jewish, offer to organize a virtual shiva minyan, or, if acceptable, facetime to participate in reciting Kaddish. Reach out to a Jewish funeral home in your area, they’ll have yahrzeit candles available (24-hour and/or seven days), usually at no cost. Visit Hebcal.com to generate a yahrzeit calendar.
- If you have some extra cash and you’re looking to do a big mitzvah, arrange for someone to say Kaddish by the Western Wall. Additionally, you might also consider provisions for the entire Oral Law to be learned in the deceased’s memory and merit.
- Make a note on the calendar 31 days after the funeral and treat yourself to a mani-pedi or a fresh new haircut.