It’s an all too familiar scene. Friends and family gathered to mourn the loss of a loved one, shedding tears while passing tissues, wrapping arms around each other, and sharing buffet style meals stacked with comfort food.
But with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, lockdown orders in place, and social distancing requirements, this way of supporting one another is simply not possible. Even places of worship are shuttered, upsetting time-honored traditions.
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Much of the funeral planning logistics remain the same. Decisions still need to be made as to whether the deceased will be buried or cremated and what type of service or ceremony will be held. Now, these sensitive issues are being discussed over the phone or on video chats. Plus, you’ll need to ask specific questions about the venue’s technological capabilities if you’re planning a virtual funeral.
In the hardest hit cities, funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries are completely overwhelmed and have to turn families away. Some mourners are choosing to postpone ceremonies, partially out of necessity due to lack of services available. Others are hosting virtual funerals from their homes.
In cities throughout the country, gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned and Americans are required to stay at least 6 feet apart when they are out of their homes for necessities. This is clearly having an impact on how traditional funerals are taking place.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, those grieving are coming together while staying apart thanks to technology. Mourners can connect to grieve, host virtual funerals, and create online memorials for their loved ones.
Connecting Online with Bereaved
Planning a funeral is taxing during the best of times. Covid-19 has added a new layer of difficulty. Although logistics are much the same, the deeper impact comes with how people are working through their grief – in isolation.
While consoling one another and honoring their lost loved ones, many are turning to technology to come together. Here are some popular ways loved ones are supporting each other while staying home and staying safe.
Zoom: This dedicated video chat program has grown in popularity amid the coronavirus crisis. Zoom is ranked #1 in customer reviews for its reliability, user-friendly capabilities, and it’s free and affordable options that are easy to scale. Zoom Pro allows conferences of up to 100 people but doesn’t integrate with other accounts or social media.
Google Hangouts: All you need is a Google account to get started, like your free gmail account. The free version is good for groups of up to 10 people, but you can upgrade and include up to 100 people. You can also share photos, maps, emojis, stickers, and GIFs. Hangouts gives you the ability to sync your chats so you can move from device to device to continue conversations while on the go, which will be a great feature when the lockdown is lifted. Hangouts is applicable across Android, IOS, and the web.
Skype: As the grandmother of the group, Skype is well-known, free, and supported by Microsoft’s network. You can host a video or audio conference with up to 50 people, record your calls, and enable live captions. Skype can be accessed without downloading the application on your device by simply using your browser. However, it tends to lag if someone has a spotty connection, which affects the quality of the image and audio. Skype also features call recording, notifications panel, and chat.
All of these programs are available online when using a desktop and the apps can be downloaded from the IOS App Store or at the Google Play Store. Make sure all the folks you want to chat with are on the same software and that you have each other’s information so you can connect.
How to Host a Virtual Funeral
In addition to comforting the bereaved, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype are all options for hosting virtual funerals. When interviewing venues, ask if they have experience streaming funerals online and if they can help in this process. Most modern funeral homes and places of worship are equipped with tech tools. Here are questions to ask:
- Have you ever helped host a virtual funeral in the past?
- What video conferencing capabilities do you have?
- Do you have a strong wifi connection?
- Is recording equipment available for use during the service?
- Do you have appropriate tech hookups, available outlets, extension cords, etc.?
- How is your lighting? Is the room bright enough for attendees to view remotely?
- Do you have someone available for tech support?
If you are unable to find a venue that meets your needs, you may choose to host your virtual funeral at home. This may be the best choice as some funeral homes are overwhelmed and are needing to turn families away. Moreover, many places of worship, like churches, synagogues, and mosques, are shuttered indefinitely.
If you are hosting at home, ensure you have a proper video conferencing equipment and plans. Zoom Pro is recommended as it is affordable, easily accessible for attendees, and can host up to 100 people. Zoom offers free plans and upgraded plans that allow up to 10,000 view-only attendees and live streaming.
The best way to invite guests is to send a virtual invitation with a link to the meeting. You can set up a webpage with a link or include a link within a free invitation from Evite or Paperless Post. Keep in mind that not all guests are tech-savvy and may not have capabilities. Create clear instructions and run through the service beforehand to look for glitches.
When it comes to planning your virtual service, you will still follow the same structure with a clear itinerary, such as:
- Prayer or reading
- Musical selection
- Speeches and tributes
It is recommended to have one person act as an officiant, whether it is a religious leader, family member or funeral director. If you have any of your guests speak, make sure this is all arranged in advance and that webcams and microphones are working properly.
Best Online Memorial Websites
Keeper: Keeper offers beautiful, free, online memorials, and tributes. Since 2013, Keeper has been helping families preserve and share memories by offering online memorial pages that loved ones can personalize. You can create a free memorial site on their user-friendly platform by adding unlimited content such as photos, videos, and life history.Then you can share the departed’s life story and allow others to collaborate and pay tribute. Plus, you can geotag your loved one’s final resting place so people can visit at later dates. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Keeper is offering virtual streaming options to help mourners while social distancing.
GatheringUs: Gathering Us is an online space that allows users to post free obituaries, crowdfund for expenses or a charity, and create gatherings. You can also coordinate logistics, send updates, share photos and videos, and create private groups to chat with your inner circle. Gathering Us is now offering virtual funerals on their website.
Forever Missed: Forever Missed is very user-friendly, has a wide array of templates, and offers some background music. The basic membership is free but you can upgrade to monthly, annual or a lifetime membership. The basic membership allows users to create a biography, share stories, light virtual candles, and leave tributes. You can invite unlimited collaborators to add to the memorial, choose privacy controls and get a personalized web address.