The grief journey in and of itself as we know, can be grueling. Now add to it, your loved ones live hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. I read many stories of loss at a distance in preparation for this article and the common thread I read over and over again was the guilt in moving away from the family circle. Some of them, were immigrants from overseas who struggled with the conflict of wanting to “be there” during a long illness, or even for the imminent funeral, but unable to do so. Some are across a continent or overseas for education or work. It becomes an unimaginable choice for many reasons. Financial constraints usually tops the list, but there are a number of other reasons, like immediate familial responsibilities making it exasperatingly difficult. Maybe you have small children and no support system, or a spouse who is ill, or you are ill, or other critical responsibilities are present that create a real challenge. Let’s face it, any reason begins to sound like an excuse and you fear you will be judged, but the reality is, sometimes… you just aren’t able to do the things you want to do most in life.
I remember the struggle was palatable when my mother was gravely ill in Syracuse, NY. My one brother lived in Chicago and the other with his young family with 3 children under the age of 5 in Florida. I, at the time was in my third trimester of pregnancy, continually running back and forth from Rochester to Syracuse with concern and warning from my obstetrician. It’s unfortunate, life doesn’t just stop, even when someone you love is dying. We all did our very best to be there to help dad and comfort and spend time with mom in her last days. When it came to the point where it was evident that she would soon pass, though still not knowing how things would progress, it became an even more upsetting situation. Hearing the stress in my brothers’ voices trying to decide “when” was a good time to fly home was heartbreaking. They had both had traveled home multiple times each over the last 5 months of her illness and were financially strained. It seemed like an impossible impasse. I’m thankful all of my family was able to be there to celebrate mom’s life. Not everyone is as fortunate.
Showing you Care from Afar
So what do we do?… with the guilt, the disappointment, or the loneliness of familial isolation when your family core is many miles away and being there during sickness or a loss is not an option? First, just because there is distance does not mean that you can’t show your love. Do something that is within your means, but MEANING-FULL. Create a Facebook group page for all invited to share and memorialize. If you are able, arrange and finance a special luncheon for family that is there, send a letter to be read at the funeral, put together a video tribute that can be shown, and all can be coupled with a personal message from you. Given some thought, there are a multitude of ways to step forward and show that you care.
How to Fill the Void
There is also the emptiness you might intimately feel by not being there for the formal goodbye. For some it makes sense to hold your own memorial service in your own locality to fill that need. For others, they simply don’t feel comfortable having a service for someone they love, but who may be unknown to your current circle of family/friends. In this case, you may need to explore different routes. Sometimes it may be as simple as holding your own personal ritual. Buy a beautiful candle that is special for only your lost loved one. The simple lighting of a candle and remembering can bring comforting moments of solace. Plant a tree or garden in memory with personal stepping stones or markers, or a bench to sit and connect spiritually with those who’ve passed. Tend to it with the same depth of care you feel for your loved one. Create a memory book or recipe book dedicated to your loved one. Release paper lanterns every year into the night sky. Above all else, don’t feel that you are not allowed to grieve because you couldn’t be there. Be vigilant in taking care of yourself, and find those who will support, understand and listen to you in your times of need.
How to Create a Facebook Group Page (to use for a memorial page)
100 Best Celebration of Life Ideas