10 Ideas for Funerals and Memorials When You Can't Be Together

Memorials and Remembrance / Memorials and Remembrance : Eleanor Haley

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Families being scattered, unable to gather for funerals, is not a new thing. And, for that reason, virtual funerals aren't new. Far from it. But currently, with the surge of restrictions for health and safety concerns, we are hearing about them everywhere. Out of necessity, funerals have turned into something difficult to recognize. 

With families limited to small private services, normal rituals are changing. The circle of support they once would have had at the service simply isn’t there. Extended family and friends are left at home, wanting to be there, but with no way to do so. Articles are popping up everywhere, from CNN to The Atlantic

In many ways, in addition to "normal grief", people are left grieving the funeral rituals they thought they would have. There is a sense of loss around not having the expected rituals.

For anyone who has lost a loved one, you know that what is meaningful about a funeral is rarely people saying the "right" thing. It is more often about just people being there, about seeing the impact our loved ones had in the world. So what do we do when we can't physically gather? We have a few ideas for funerals that many of you, our amazing readers, shared.

(If you are looking for ideas for what to do when you can't be with a loved one who is dying, visit this post).

10 Meaningful Ideas for Funerals and Memorials in Isolation:

  1. Have a cremation or burial and small service now and have an in-person event later. Though these are tips for having a service, keep in mind that you don't have to rush to have a service. Even in the best of circumstances, many families later say they wish they had taken more time before having a service. There is no reason you need to do something immediately. Or you can do something small and/or virtual now, and then something in person later. That may be when people are able to come together again, or you could plan it for your loved one's birthday or another significant date
  2. Stream the service. This is probably the most obvious. If people can't be with you, you can at least bring the service or burial to them. Some funerals already offer this service and you can also check out our post on how to live-stream a funeral or memorial. Even if you're a FaceTime pro, doing this in a way that ensures people at home can see, hear, and maybe even get involved, requires some prework. So make sure you plan. 
  3. Include people in the service even if they aren't at the service. Just because people aren't at the service, that doesn't mean they can't do a reading, sing a song, or give a eulogy. With the right preparation, you can allow participation through platforms like Zoom. You can also have people send in pre-recorded video to watch and stream as part of the service. 
  4. Crowd-source a virtual photo slideshow. One of my favorite parts of the viewing or funeral is seeing so many wonderful old photographs. In an era when so many of our photos are now digital anyway, many of these slideshows would be on-screen even if you were all together in the funeral home or church. Whether just keeping the immediate family involved or extending the invitation to extended family and friends, put together a digital slideshow that can be shared during the service/streaming service. If you use Zoom's webinar feature, you can do a screen share of the computer playing the slideshow. This will allow anyone tuning in to see everything right on their screen. 
  5. Create a slideshow of memories or other words of remembrance. So many fond memories and amazing stories are shared informally at services. And these days, many of those stories are shared in the comments on social media as well. Create a combination of this sharing by inviting people in advance, either by email or on social media, to share a memory or any other words of remembrance. Make these into their own slideshow, or include them in the photo slideshow. You can use the screen share feature to share the slideshow with people at home during the service. You can also share the slideshow with others on social media or by email after the service.
  6. Sing and play music together (in real-time). Just because you are in different places, it doesn't mean you can't all sing together from wherever you are—using Zoom, FaceTime, etc. (Tip: It helps if you use earbuds or headsets, so the mic on your computer/phone isn't picking up other people singing at the same time). Just this week one of our readers shared: "We held our grandma’s funeral through a Zoom meeting. Just her 4 children and their spouses could be at the mortuary for the service but all the grandkids and their families were online. We were able to participate by singing together (although not all in tune) and some cousins gave prayers and played the piano virtually."  This is what using technology to bring people together is all about! Her mom, who was at the service in person, shared that it comforted her and her siblings to hear their kids and grandkids singing. 
  7. Record a song as a family to be played at the service. Now, this requires a family with some musical talent and a little time. But you can put together some pretty impressive songs and videos if you have people each record separately and then edit them together. This won't be for everyone. You need some musically talented folks with some editing know-how. If you have that, these videos might be an inspiration! And there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube about how to gather the clips and do the editing. (Keep in mind, these are ambitious options, but we know some people have incredibly musically talented families so we set the bar high! And even if your family isn't musically talented, this can still be a really fun and meaningful way to be part of planning for and participating in a service).
  1. Create a virtual-memorial book. If you use Zoom or any other streaming platform that has a chat feature, this can be easily accomplished. Ask people to type their answers to some specific questions. Certainly their name, so you know who was there, just like a regular guest book. But in the chat you can also ask people to write anything else you want: You can ask them to share how they met the person. You could ask a favorite memory, their favorite thing about them, something the person taught them, etc. Make sure someone is in charge of downloading the chat at the end. And check in advance to make sure you use a system that allows for a download.
  2. Have family members and friends all do their own small ritual at the same day/time. Even without sharing these by screen, just knowing everyone is doing something at the same time can bring connection. It could be as simple as all doing a toast, saying a specific prayer, or listening to a song they loved. 
  3. Create a small memorial in your home or garden. Plant a tree, make a small display of photos, or create some other small space of remembrance in your home. The process of putting this together can be meaningful and symbolic. It is something you can do by yourself or together with others in your home. Set aside a specific time to do this. Especially with children, this is a great opportunity to share memories and say goodbyes. They may wish to draw pictures, write a letter, or make other artistic items to add to the shrine.

Whatever you do, remember that it doesn't have to be perfect. Grief, honoring, and remembering is not a one-time event. It is something you will do many times, in many ways as life moves forward. Even if this does not come together in exactly the way you imagined, you will have other opportunities in the future. 

As always, share your thoughts in the comments. Subscribe to get all our fantastic great support posts right to your inbox! 

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5 Comments on "10 Ideas for Funerals and Memorials When You Can't Be Together"

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  1. Olivia S  May 22, 2023 at 11:47 am Reply

    Thank you for your idea to stream the service. We’ve been wondering how to include everyone in our grandma’s funeral since not everyone can make it. I’ll be sure to look into this for the service and see if we can set something up. [link removed]

  2. Elle Jones  February 24, 2023 at 1:07 pm Reply

    Thank you for reassuring me that I don’t have to have a memorial service right away to remember our loved one who passed away. It has been a week since our grandma died away, but planning a memorial service has been challenging due to the epidemic. Perhaps we ought to start by speaking with funeral houses to see if they have any suggestions that might work for our family. https://www.ricketsonfuneralhome.com/what-we-do/funeral-services

  3. Zoe Campos  December 7, 2020 at 10:06 am Reply

    Thanks for assuring me that I don’t need to immediately hold a memorial to honor our deceased loved one. It’s been a week since our grandmother passed away but because of the pandemic, it’s been hard to organize one. Maybe we should start by consulting funeral homes and see if they can offer options that would suit our family.


  4. Laura  March 29, 2020 at 1:02 pm Reply

    Does anyone have tips on how to sing together online? When I’ve tried this recently there is a streaming delay so everyone ends up singing at different times – a few seconds different in timing. I’d love to be able to hear each other and sing together.

    • Eleanor Haley  March 30, 2020 at 11:49 am Reply

      Hi Laura, If you go to youtube and search “virtual choir tutorial” you will get some good advice. If you use Zoom there is a setting you have to change for singing to work effectively, which basically tells it to broadcast exactly what it hears. The automatic setting does some sort of adjustment because it assumes people are speaking, not singing, and that can distort the singing. Also, make sure everyone wears earbuds or headsets. I think you’ll find there are some good tutorials on YouTube.

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