Difficult Loss: Conducting A Funeral In The Absence Of A Body

Whilst a funeral is usually a time for family and friends to grieve for their loved one and attain a sense of closure, this can be difficult when the person is declared "likely to be deceased" after they have gone missing. From drownings to airline disasters to mountaineering accidents, families may be faced with organising a funeral service without a body amidst uncertainty about what has happened to their loved one.

When organising a memorial service in a situation where there is doubt surrounding the whereabouts of the deceased and the chance of denial by some mourners, it is important to select a funeral director who is particularly empathetic with the situation. Here are some of the issues you might wish to discuss.


When a person has gone missing in unusual circumstances, there is potential for the memorial service to become a "circus" with media and curious onlookers in attendance. Consider the possibility of holding a private service, but allowing the public to attend the unveiling of a memorial plaque. Ask your funeral director about discrete security measures to ensure wishes for privacy are respected. This would include no newspaper announcements and sending personal invitations to those you wish to attend.

Grief Counsellor

Your funeral director can recommend appropriate support services to deal with grief. In this case, you may choose to have a grief counsellor at the service. Without normal traditions such as viewing the casket, the presence of an urn containing ashes or an internment service, it may be difficult for some mourners to accept the finality. A counsellor can discuss the sense of ambiguity with those who refuse to mourn, allowing others to deal with the normal process of grief.

Images and Memorial Book

Encourage all attendees to participate in preparing the service. Ask them to contribute photos and film footage of your loved one, particularly any that were taken just prior to his or her disappearance. Display these images as an acknowledgement of your loved in the absence of a casket. You might also like to create a memorial book in which each person writes about his or her last happy memory of the deceased. By focussing on recent events, you allow those who have accepted the death of the deceased to celebrate his or her life, whilst being sensitive to those who are still in denial.

You are not Alone

Organising a memorial service in which many of the usual rituals are not possible can be an isolating experience. Talk to your funeral director about alternative services held by other families in similar circumstances. It can be comforting to know that there are others who have been in this position as you arrange a dignified, sincere ceremony to acknowledge the loss of your loved one.

For more information on planning a funeral, contact a funeral home like Tony Hollands Funerals.