The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted the world in so many ways, most tragically by its rising death toll. The restrictions of quarantine and stay-at-home orders make it impossible for families to hold traditional funerals and memorial services - at least for the time being. But grief and mourning won’t wait until quarantine is lifted and things are “back to normal.” This calls for a time of both compassionate and creative action.
Funerals/memorial services are not just a “frivolous ceremony”; they serve as important markers of finality/closure for those who’ve experienced a loss. Technology becomes the key tool when social distancing and isolation make it impossible to gather to mark the passing of a loved one.
In this article, you'll find some helpful ideas and tips for how to put together a meaningful, creative, and completely virtual memorial service to honor your loved one. I’ve also created a free sample virtual memorial guide that you can adapt to fit your family's needs.
A “virtual memorial” service doesn’t have to take the place of a funeral/memorial service, but it can serve as a stand-in until restrictions are lifted and more plans can be made. I suggest holding this “virtual memorial” service for immediate friends & family in the week or so following the death.
Before we get into how to do that, I just want to say, reader, that I’m so sorry you have to go through this. Please take a deep breath and look for the suggestions that would be beneficial for you and your family as you face this loss right now. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of a more formal, structured service, just pick a few things you’d like to do during a virtual family call.
For this “virtual memorial” how-to, I’ll be using Zoom as the example (how-to articles are linked to each function you’ll need to use), but you can adapt to whatever technology you’re using to connect with friends and family (Google Hangouts and Skype are great options for private calls, and Facebook Live and Youtube Live are great options for more public watching.
1.) Think temporary - Quarantine/isolation won’t last forever.
Make plans and set a future date for: a more traditional funeral/memorial service, a reception, family get together, or a trip to spread their ashes in a special place. Having these dates/plans penciled into your calendar will help ease the grief over not being able to plan a grand service to honor your loved one’s memory like you want to.
2.) Think different - Acknowledge to yourself right now that this “virtual memorial” will not be like any funeral/memorial service that you’ve attended before.
There will be no flowers, no reception line (though isn’t that a relief?), no live musicians, and no viewing. While this can feel like a bummer, it is a benefit in terms of savings and stress.
3.) Think small - You might also have to acknowledge that there will be fewer people there than you’d like (though I do have some suggestions to make it more public).
If you’re using a virtual chat site like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype, you have the option to keep the “virtual memorial” more private and you can facilitate a memorial where the family can contribute. Keep the guest list small though, between 4 and 9 computers (note that a family of 5 quarantined in one house may represent one computer). Any more screens and speakers on a virtual chat will feel too chaotic to actually be helpful for the purpose of grieving.
One way to involve more than just the immediate family is to post on social media that you are gathering written memories of the lost loved one to be read aloud during your “virtual memorial”. Designate one family member to be the Collector and ask people to send written memories to the Collector.
If you want more people to be able to virtually “attend,” consider hosting the “virtual memorial” with only one computer via Youtube or Facebook live (with this option, one person should be the designated Host). There is no privacy with this option, but it does make participation more widely available, and guests can comment in real-time. It may be helpful to have someone in on another computer in the Host’s house who is monitoring comments and is able to read comments aloud into the camera. This will create a more shared environment.
4.) Think organized - Order is helpful because it helps keep the focus on why you’re all gathered for this meeting: to honor the lost loved one, provide opportunity to acknowledge the reality of the loss, and to help facilitate a time of collective grief and mourning.
Designate someone as the Host for the Zoom call. This could be you or someone else who has an account with unlimited time (see note at the end of this article). The Host’s Personal Meeting ID is the number that everyone will need to know in order to join the meeting.
Via family text or a set of phones calls, plan the date and time of day when the “virtual memorial” is to be held (use a time zone converter if people are scattered). Make sure everyone creates a free Zoom account and has the Host's Personal Meeting ID.
Designate someone as the Facilitator for the Zoom call (think the pastor or funeral director in the traditional memorial/funeral service - sometimes they speak, sometimes not. Mainly they’re the ones who plan and direct the order of the service). This could be you, or it might be someone in another house. Sometimes it can be helpful if the Facilitator is someone who’s more removed from the loss, be it an aunt or uncle, adult son or daughter, clergyman, neighbor, or sympathetic friend.
Ask “attendees” to help contribute to the “virtual memorial” as a way to create ownership and help give people a way to express their thoughts and emotions (find ideas for contributing in my FREE Virtual Memorial How-To Guide).
Create an “order of service” beforehand. Make sure each person knows their part and when it comes in the order of things. The Facilitator should show/tell the order of service at the beginning of the call so that everyone knows what to expect.
5.) Think long-term - Remember that the grief process is a long-term journey. Many of you/your family might be in denial or survival mode right now, and the wave of emotions might begin later. Be there (virtually) for one another in the coming days, weeks, months.
In the coming months, you’ll need some support and guidance as you navigate life after loss. I am an artist and Therapeutic Art Coach and my passion is teaching people how to use art as a tool in their grief recovery. If you think that you or any family members might benefit from creative support, make sure you send them to ProjectGrief.Org!
Has your family held a virtual memorial? How did it go? What did you do to commemorate your unique loss?
New to Zoom? I’ve got some tips on how to use it in a sample virtual memorial plan. Get it FREE here: