What to Say When You Can't Attend a Funeral: 17 Thoughtful Messages

Friend consoling senior man at dining table

If you're sending a card, writing a text, or reaching out to a grieving friend in any other way, it can be hard to know what to say when you can't attend the funeral. When someone you care about has experienced a loss, you need to find the words to show you care, even if you can't be there in person. The key is offering your support and condolences without focusing too much on the reason you're unable to attend.

How to Decline a Funeral in Person

If you're speaking to a grieving friend face-to-face, it's helpful to do a little brainstorming before you talk. Your goal here should be to support the person who has experienced the loss. Don't focus on why you can't go to the funeral; in most cases, any reason you give will seem insignificant when compared with the loss the family has endured. Instead, think about ways you can help or another way you can honor the person who has passed away. Here are some ideas for what to say:

  • "Oh, Judy. I'm so sorry to hear about Bill's passing. I'm not able to come to the funeral, but I'd like to stop by next week to help take care of the lawn for you."
  • "I'm so sorry about Ellen. She was an incredible person and such a fine educator. I can't make it to the funeral, but I'd love to donate some books to the school library in her honor."
  • "Erin, I heard about your dad's passing. I wish I could attend the funeral, but I can't. Would it be okay if I sent some flowers for the service?"

What to Say in a Card When You Can't Be There

A sympathy card is an important gesture, especially if you can't be at the funeral in person. As you're writing a bereavement card message, take some time to remember the person who has passed away. Make your note as personal and meaningful as you can and follow up with an offer of help if possible. Try not to go into detail about your own situation and your reason for missing the funeral. These examples can inspire you:

  • "I remember the day I met your dad. It was at your college graduation, and he was telling everyone he met how proud he was that you went to his alma mater. I'm unable to attend the funeral, but I'd like to honor him by making a donation to a scholarship fund at the college."
  • "Rosella was an incredible person, full of such spark and vivacity. She had the best stories about her long life, and it was such fun to sit and talk with her. I can't attend the funeral, but I'm enclosing some photos of Rosella from our family archives. Please know I'm thinking of you and wish I could be there."
  • "I was so sorry to hear about your mom. Please know I'm thinking about you during this difficult time. I'm unable to attend the funeral, but would it be okay if I dropped off a casserole next week?"
    A blue coffin with a flower arrangement

How to Write an Email Declining a Funeral

Writing a condolence email is a delicate thing to do, and declining the funeral over email can make it more challenging. The email should be more about offering your condolences and less about your regrets for missing the funeral. Keep the part about not attending to a single line if you can. Here's an example email to help you figure out what to say when you can't attend the funeral:

"Everyone here at Simon & Smith was terribly saddened to hear about the loss of your wife. I remember what a vivacious person she was from our holiday party. She was an excellent conversationalist and such a kind person. Although I can't attend the funeral, please know I'm thinking of you during this difficult time. Please let me know if there's anything our firm or I personally can do to help."

What to Say on the Phone When You Can't Attend the Funeral

The phone is not the ideal way to connect with someone who is grieving. During this difficult time, many people choose to let calls go to voicemail as they handle the practical and emotional demands. If you choose to call to tell someone you can't attend the funeral, follow up with flowers and a sympathy message if you can. Also, be prepared to leave a message. Here are some ideas for what to say:

  • "I wanted to call to let you know how sorry I am to hear about Steve's passing. He was an amazing guy, and we'll really miss his infectious laugh on bowling night. I'm afraid I won't be able to attend the funeral, but I'll be stopping by next week to see if I can help you with the lawn or anything else."
  • "I was so sorry to hear about your mom, and I wanted to call to tell you I wish I could attend the funeral. I'll be sending flowers, but I just want to make sure you know I'm thinking about you during this time."
  • "I wish I could be there on Tuesday as you celebrate Jim's life. He was such an exceptional human being and a dear friend. I'm going to miss him terribly."
Young woman in sorrow with a friend consoling her

How to Respectfully Decline a Funeral Over Text

When you text someone who is grieving, you should always follow up with a more substantial method of communication. This is especially true when you can't come to the funeral. Plan to send flowers or a card, and if you can think of a way to offer practical help, you should. Here are some things you can text to show you care, even if you can't attend the funeral:

  • "I was so sorry to hear about your sister. I can't come to the funeral, but I'll be holding you close in my thoughts on Saturday."
  • "I just heard about your aunt. I'm afraid I can't make it to the service, but I'll be sending flowers. Please know I'm here if you need to talk."
  • "I'm so sorry to hear about Stan's passing. I can't come to the funeral, but I'd like to make a donation in his name to the ACLU. I know social justice was such an important cause to him, and it's just a small way to honor his spirit."

What to Say When You Missed the Funeral

If the funeral has already happened and you didn't attend, it's not too late to reach out. Ultimately, it matters that you say something, even if it feels a little awkward. Showing you care is important, even after the fact. Here are some ideas for what to say:

  • "I was devastated to hear about Sam's passing. He was an inspiration and such a good friend. I'm really sorry I couldn't attend the funeral. Please know I'm thinking about you and your family during this difficult time."
  • "I'm so sorry I missed the funeral for Maggie. She was a strong woman and a wonderful example of resilience and joy. I know this is a hard time for your whole family, and I'd like to honor her memory with a donation to hospice."
  • "I know it's been a few weeks since Jennifer passed away, and I'm really sorry I didn't attend the funeral. Your family is so important to me, and I'm honored to have been close to Jennifer growing up. Please know I'm thinking of you."
  • "Your mother was an amazing person, and I feel lucky to have known her. I'm so sorry I couldn't attend the service you had. I heard it was a beautiful tribute. I'm enclosing some homemade jam that I made using your mom's recipe. There's so much I've learned from her. I'm so sorry for your loss."

Proper Etiquette for Missing a Funeral

Ultimately, if you can't come to the funeral, you need to show you care in another way. Take some time to reach out to the grieving person. Proper etiquette dictates that you acknowledge the event and the loss; otherwise, missing the funeral is disrespectful. In the end, the fact that you say something to show you care is more important than exactly what you say when you can't attend the funeral.

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What to Say When You Can't Attend a Funeral: 17 Thoughtful Messages