As I write this, I’m at Hamad airport in Qatar awaiting my flight to Manila for the third time this year. The last one was less than a month ago primarily to see my dying father alive for the last time. Then he actually died, which prompted me at the last minute to go back for the funeral.
Unless you own a private jet, flying to Manila from the US East Coast takes a minimum of 20 hours excluding layovers. Not to mention, requires money, planning, and resources. I’m blessed to be able to do both.
But not so much if you’re heavily in debt or just getting started with your financial journey. If you live from afar, should you visit a dying loved one or just attend the funeral? Of course, not traveling at all because you’re dead broke is the saddest option.
Benefits of visiting a dying loved one while alive
Nothing is more precious than being able to say goodbye, express your love, gratitude, forgiveness, or anything else that you want to share with them before they pass away. You may be able to comfort them, ease their pain or fear, and make their last moments more peaceful and meaningful.
You may be able to fulfill their wishes, such as helping them with their bucket list, spiritual practices, or final arrangements. Not to mention, create some positive memories with them that you can cherish after they are gone.
It’s also easier to plan ahead. For instance, airline tickets are reasonably cheaper if purchased months before the trip. In my case, I could time my trip several months before my father ended up in the ICU.
Drawbacks of visiting a dying loved one while alive
If you’re the type who can’t stomach seeing your loved one suffer, waiting for the funeral is a reasonable option. Witnessing firsthand the suffering, deterioration, or loss of dignity can be emotionally distressing and traumatic.
You also may have to deal with practical challenges, such as traveling, taking time off work, arranging childcare, or managing expenses. You are also more likely to be compelled to contribute financially or worse shoulder the hospital bills. Of course, this is not really a drawback if you’re able and willing.
Facing conflicts or disagreements with other family members or friends who have different opinions or expectations about visitation or end-of-life care is a common occurrence, which can be very stressful and exhausting.
Benefits of just attending the funeral
There’s no shame in just attending the funeral especially if you don’t have “unfinished business” with your loved one. You may be able to honor and celebrate their lives in a more positive and uplifting way, rather than focusing on their death and suffering.
Moreover, you will be able to connect and reconnect with other family members or friends who share your grief and memories. You are more likely to see family members and other relatives at a funeral than at any wedding.
Also, many companies in the U.S. offer bereavement leave of up to three days. This may not be available when your loved one is dying. Whether this leave is paid or unpaid depends on the employer. So you might want to ask.
Lastly, giving out abuloy, i.e. financial donations for the dead, a popular Filipino custom, is way cheaper than hospital bills. Not that it’s your responsibility but it could be an issue if you are struggling financially.
Drawbacks of just attending the funeral
By simply attending the funeral, you can avoid some of the emotional and practical difficulties of visiting a dying loved one. But you may regret not seeing them while they were still alive, especially if you had unresolved issues or unspoken words with them.
You may feel guilty or selfish for not being there for them when they need you the most. You may miss out on some valuable opportunities to bond with them, learn from them, or help them in their final days.
Moreover, you may feel disconnected or isolated from other family members or friends who did visit your loved one while alive. You may also have difficulty processing your grief and emotions without having a personal farewell with your loved one.
And then there’s the financial aspect. You obviously wouldn’t know precisely when your loved one will die. Unless you shop for bereavement flights, the airfare could be substantially more expensive. In my case, I was fortunate to be able to book a reasonably priced flight with Qatar Airways at the last minute.
Why I decided at the last minute to attend the funeral
“I’m not going. I’ve already paid my last respects while dad was alive,” I initially told my wife. Besides, we’re dead set to attend a friend’s wedding in Wichita Falls, TX that same weekend (no pun intended).
Then I learned from my sister that my mom’s and my grandma’s remains, both just as dear to me, would be exhumed and placed in the family mausoleum with my dad; neither of them had I been able to attend their respective funerals.
That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided to skip the wedding and go to my dad’s funeral instead. I wouldn’t be in the mood for dancing anyway.
Who would be? Maybe Mom and Dad in the afterlife.