04 April 2014

Sorrow: Grieving from Afar

Being far from loved ones is hard enough. Being far when someone you love passes away . . . now that raises our sorrow by adding homesickness to it.

Today, I am praying for my friend who caught a flight back to the States to attend her grandmother's funeral. As I think of her pain, I am crying.

Yesterday, my mind drifted to Mililani Mortuary (in my hometown on Oahu) to envision my high school friend being laid to rest. As I think of my friends gathered there and wish I was among them, I am crying.


Grieving from afar.

It's when you look out at the ocean and let your tears fall without wiping them away. And that ocean reaches beyond the earth's curve and reaches the other side of the world--where others are crying too. Perhaps they are looking back in your direction. Perhaps they are comforted by others around them, by arms you wish were encircling you.

It's when you try to find pictures and momentos in your home abroad and realize most of what you want, need, and crave to see, hold, and hug are back across the sea too. And empty hands make your heart feel empty too.

It's when your heart weighs heavy with goodbyes but you need to decide whether the plane ticket home is a worthy investment. Whose head is clear enough to think about that?

It's when you consider not returning just because distance may keep you from facing all the grief.

. . . . .
Because my dad is a clinical psychologist and an expert on trauma, I asked him for advice with this sensitive topic. Following is a compilation of our suggestions for both those who travel great distances to attend funerals and also those who choose to stay abroad and grieve from afar.

For Those Who Travel to the Funeral

1. Remember you are there to grieve.

Do not feel you need to see everyone you would on an ordinary visit. It's not necessary to make the rounds to all your friends or to speak in front of your church. This travel time is different.

2. Know that your presence is a comfort to others.

Sometimes you don't know what to say, and then you must remember that comfort often comes from simply being together. Don't feel like you need to be the one with the answers.

3. Help if you can, but be sure to spend time alone too.

There is often much to do: children to watch, places to clean, papers to sort, services to arrange, etc. If you feel you can step in and help then do it. However, if you busy yourself the entire time, you may end up leaving without ever having grieved your loved one. Take time to be alone and process your loss so the healing can begin.

4. Share your heart with loved ones.

Talk about your loss together. Laugh about past memories. Cry with each other.

For Those Who Grieve From Afar

1. Accept comfort even in un-preferred means.

Of course you want to be at the funeral. Of course you'd rather be hugged by that person instead of this person. But you must accept comfort even if it is through a skype call or through a hug from someone who never met the person you lost. Reach out. Talk about your loved one. Ask for someone to be with you even if you never speak a word.

2. Follow the funeral in real time, if you can.

If the ceremony means a lot to you, then celebrate your loved one's life in your own way where you are. You can escape to somewhere quiet and remember them. This can be a place you return to even yearly to commemorate the life of the one you're grieving.

3. Write a poem, a song, and/or a story. 

This can be sent to your loved ones, kept personal, or even read/performed at the funeral service for you.

4. Do something to honor your loved one. 

You can plant a tree, donate to an organization or cause in your loved one's honor, etc.

5. Do not ignore the pain.

As hard as it is to face the finality of death, it's important that you grieve. Do not let distance keep you from acknowledging what has happened or facing what will change--especially when you eventually do return "home" to a different situation.

Death is sorrowful because it means separation. But the One who knows separation best can relate to our feelings of loss and loneliness. Didn't He plead that the cup pass from Him then cry "Why?!" from the cross?  He who knew sorrow can comfort us best, and He is never afar.

Praying for those grieving,

This post is part of a conversation in The Grove at Velvet Ashes. Head on over there to read more about sorrow.


  1. Hi Malia, I'm sorry to hear that your friend's grandma died. I know when my grandma died and I was not able to return for her funeral, it was a low point for me. And the Chinese grieve so DIFFERENTLY -- that might be one point to add for folks living overseas -- "if the local people express grief differently than you, it's OK to pull back for a little while (so that you won't punch someone in the face :))" Thanks for this helpful resource!

    1. Excellent point about how cultures grieve differently--thank you for sharing that, Amy! :)

  2. So glad you shared these great suggestions with us, Malia. For your friend's grandma, for your high school friend, we ache with you. Thank you for words to help with the pain.

    1. Thank you for reading and for your encouragement, Danielle.


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