Last Updated on July 30, 2021
Virtual funerals. Memorial services on Zoom. Life celebrations on Facebook. Funerals by invite only.
Staying apart rather than gathering together because we love those we love.
How do you create a safe memorial service in these trying times? Here’s what you need to know about virtual funerals and how to plan a meaningful online memorial when everyone can’t gather together.
The Rise of Virtual Funerals
2020 hit everyone in some way. Suddenly, everyone knew what Zoom was and how to use it. Businesses, organizations, families, and friends have all adapted. Funeral homes are among the many industries that have had to “rethink” business as usual.
Funerals will no longer be held only in the traditional way. Funeral homes have healthy and safety guidelines that must be followed. These standards include social distancing, wearing masks and disinfecting, to name a few.
While some families choose to meet together, others may (for a wide variety of reasons) prefer to stream online.
In the funeral industry, we are calling it the “together alone” funeral.
How Do Virtual Funerals Work?
A virtual funeral works the same as a traditional funeral… basically.
The difference is that not everyone is physically in attendance. Often, a large number of friends, acquaintances, and even family members are watching from a distance through Zoom or other similar apps.
Even in the post-2020 era, families may choose limited attendance at the physical, in-person funeral. A chapel that may have accommodated 200 people might only seat 50 or less. This means that some people will not get an invitation to the funeral.
Did I mention that you have to invite people now? Reading an obituary in the paper does not automatically mean you will be allowed to attend the funeral service, or an announcement in the church bulletin. This is the new world of Zoom funerals.
You can still have all of the flowers, the traditional open casket, and even your clergy. There won’t be all of the friends and family that would typically be able to attend, but some can and will.
Read on, and you can find out what the “new normal” is for the funeral industry. You will learn how to plan for a virtual viewing/visitation and funeral service.
How to Plan a Virtual Funeral Service
Before 2020, most funeral homes didn’t offer virtual funeral services. But every industry is adapting and changing with the times, and funeral homes are no different. What are some things to expect when planning a funeral service?
Planning by phone, text, and email. The world has adapted to new technology. Planning the funeral service can be done over the phone, even by text. Documents can be emailed or faxed. You’ll still plan most of the traditional funeral (or “celebration of life“) elements, but there will be a few tweaks to account for the virtual attendees.
Choosing who to invite – if anyone at all. You may want or be able to have only a few chosen people attend. Everyone else will attend the service “virtually.” That is to say, attending the service online while never leaving the comfort of their own home.
Streaming the service. Setting up a virtual funeral will be quite easy. The funeral director will ask for your email address. Once the director gets everything set up through the virtual server, he/she will email the link to you. It will be up to the family to email the funeral service link to whomever they want, or post it on social media. The funeral home will not do this for you.
Contacting family & friends with the details. You will need to either have a list of emails already or call people for their emails. Either way is appropriate. If you want, ask one of your tech-savvy younger family members to give you a hand with all of it. For a more public option, you can create a virtual invitation and post on social media with the link.
10 Meaningful Online Memorial Service Ideas
In all of this newfangled online streaming and whatnot, the main thing is still to honor your loved one. Here are some helpful and creative ideas for safe and meaningful virtual memorial services.
1. Follow all CDC, state, and funeral home guidelines.
Follow the guidelines set up during your initial conference with the funeral home. Safety is essential. As needed, wear masks, practice social distancing, and follow all the guidelines.
If the funeral home is only allowed to host 25 people, make sure that is all you have invited. Please be considerate of the funeral workers and the position you put them in if you don’t obey the rules. It could cost the funeral director their job or even get the funeral home shut down.
2. Record the visitation/viewing or funeral service.
Sending out the email link may not have been enough. There are older generations that don’t have access to computers or are just not tech-savvy. The virtual host will allow the funeral home to order DVDs for just such an occasion.
If your elderly Aunt Ethel was unable to attend in person or by virtual link, presenting her with a DVD of the service is the answer.
3. Church clergy
Some churches may not allowing their clergy to attend funeral services. If this is the case, you can ask the clergy to record the eulogy or read it via the livestream.
Alternatively, you can ask the funeral director to perform the eulogy. Often trained in public speaking, funeral directors can deliver your chosen messages. Supply the information, and the funeral director can help put together something for you. You will have the opportunity to approve it before the service.
Read more: Helpful Eulogy Examples for Everyone
4. Make it immersive.
Invite virtual attendees to dress up and follow along with the virtual funeral program. Dressing up for the virtual service will make everyone feel more involved.
If you’re a virtual attendee, wear that special funeral dress or suit that you have for such an occasion. You wouldn’t go to Grandma’s funeral with a sandwich in your hand or wearing a stained t-shirt.
Following along in your Bible and reading aloud or singing along with the selected music will give you a feeling of participation. Any involvement will make you feel immersed in the funeral service.
5. Have a virtual service now with a larger celebration later.
Having a virtual funeral service now with a larger celebration later is perfectly acceptable. Some families that have cremated their loved ones will have the service now. Schedule the burial of ashes at a later date, which could be weeks, months, or even years down the road.
Have a traditional service over Zoom. Then, when possible, plan a memorial family get-together. You can meet at a local park, restaurant, or even your backyard. Celebration is the key!
6. Have your family email the funeral home with messages.
Have your family members email the funeral home. Reading special memories at the virtual service will allow people that would like to participate in it the opportunity to do so.
The clergy or funeral director will read well wishes or memories. “I loved fishing with Uncle Mike. He taught me everything I know about catching Northern Pikes! Remembering Uncle Mike with much love from Jason.”
7. Create picture boards at the funeral service.
Have your family email you photos of your loved ones. Create a photo memory board. The funeral director will position it to be seen during the service. Everyone that has participated will be happy they got to contribute.
You will be surprised at all the photos you didn’t know existed! Many mourners find these new photos (and stories, see #6) very meaningful, as they get to experience new memories of their departed loved one.
8. Allow flowers at the service.
It would help if you encouraged people to send flowers to the funeral home. Make sure the camera focuses on each floral arrangement. Let everyone know how much you appreciate the tribute to your loved one.
You can even read flower condolence messages and signatures aloud. This is a great way to involve family and the community in the virtual funeral service.
9. Inviting friends and family
It is hard to decide who to invite to the service. Dividing the viewing and funeral into two distinct parts can help with that. I have had families turn a two-hour viewing and funeral into four hours.
For the viewing, you can invite 25 people that weren’t close family members. This could be friends, church or community members, or co-workers. The funeral service personnel will disinfect the entire funeral home once the visitation is over.
The next group of 25 participants will be present for the funeral service. This group will be close family and friends.
The first group of people will be able to watch the funeral service through Zoom, which you had already set up during the arrangement conference.
10. Memorial Tribute
You can create a slideshow to be shown during the visitation or funeral service (or shown at both). Have pictures from birth on up through the years.
Place special music in the slideshow that will encapsulate your loved one’s life. I suggest music that would cover the whole life of your loved one. If your loved one was born in 1955, use music from the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s. That would have been the music of their lifetime.
If you have already asked family members to contribute photos for a memory board, this would be the perfect opportunity to have the funeral home put a DVD together for you. The funeral home will charge for that service. If you have someone in your family that could put one together, you will save some money by doing it that way.
Is the future now?
The funeral industry is always slow to move into the present. We funeral directors love tradition! But now the funeral industry has adjusted to virtual viewings, visitations, and funerals.
Will this become our new tradition? How will the events of 2020-2021 influence future trends in funerals and memorial services? Will virtual funerals become the norm? Only time will tell.