This is 2020 in these unprecedented times of the coronavirus pandemic, we are able to have graveside only church services with severely restricted numbers ensuring social distancing and local crematoria are allowing attended services currently limited to 10 mourners which allows for immediate family members only. In some areas of the country crematoria have moved to or are moving to direct cremations in response to the coronavirus pandemic. So what are the online options for family or friends when someone has died? Here are some suggestions:-
1) Use a virtual option to remember the person who has died
This can be their Facebook page, or, if someone in the family is able to you could make a new webpage. Keeping the persons Facebook page as it was allows you to continue to interact with the person’s page, to leave messages for them, and you will still get birthday reminders or anniversary of your friendship celebrations in years to come if this is for you.
On their facebook page or the new webpage, you can leave messages, upload videos, songs, play music, leave virtual flowers, photos/videos of lit candles, poems, wishes, prayers, anything. It can be used now and in the future, whenever you miss them, on special occasions or at any time you choose.
You can receive messages by post or suggestions by phone from those who are offline and upload them, or you can print off a document of all the gathered material and mail it to them.
2) Make a music playlist
This could be used at an online funeral or memorial, or it could be played when you want to feel their memory around you. You could choose a platform with links which give you the option of adding the reasons why you chose the song and you can use it to share memories with each other.
3) Create a shared photo album
You can fill it will all the photos that each of you have of them, then maybe have a zoom meeting and screen share the album as you all share the memories and stories that accompany those photos. Those with original photos can send copies taken perhaps with their phones, and someone in the family can upload these copies to the album for them.
4) Arrange to talk to each other often
Make a time each day, or once a week, whatever suits, where someone agrees to perhaps open a Zoom, Google Meet or Skype virtual ‘room’, or a WhatsApp call, or even phone conference call.
Whoever wants to show up to chat, shows up. Even better if you all agree to check in, but sometimes we don’t know how we are going to feel. Just an invitation and a host willing to entertain themselves if no-one drops in, is enough. If group calls aren’t your thing, make a time to call on the phone.
5) Fix a time and everyone watch the person’s favourite movie or TV show.
You can even message each other in a chat group as you watch if you like, or be on the phone. If they had a favourite band or artist, all watch a concert or live gig together, it will allow you to focus on them and their passions.
6) You can make their favourite food
Or some of you order it in – take outs and food delivery services are still working. Just all sit down to dinner at the same time in your own homes with their favourite food on the table. Maybe light a candle on each table. Eat, talk, laugh, cry, whatever, it’s all OK, just be there.
7) Plan a Celebration of Life now or have a Memorial at a later time.
If everyone who wants to be at a funeral can’t attend because of the regulations, there are examples of people using Facebook or other media to record a service live but do have a plan B if the internet can’t be relied on. It may be better to record the funeral service and upload it later where family and friends who could not attend the funeral can view it at a later time.
Current rules on social distancing have fostered new ways of having a funeral service some celebrants are now doing funeral service using Zoom where family from a number of different countries log in and are able to ‘attend’ the service. A member of the family can set up a whatsapp group to share memories, photos, favourite songs and support each other prior to the service and add the celebrant and then host the Zoom meeting for the service. The Zoom meeting is scheduled and those attending are given the login details. The online service can go ahead at the scheduled funeral time and include a number of friends and family across the country or world who can’t attend the physical ceremony in normal times due to distance, other commitments etc. At the committal point at the crematorium, the Funeral Director can contact the celebrant who can then move on to the words of committal. At the end of the online service the Celebrant can leave the meeting and the family of the deceased can continue to chat and support each other. The service can be recorded and sent to the family afterwards.
A family may want to wait to have a service when we are in more ‘normal’ times, if this is appropriate. A memorial service at a later time could then be an option.
This could be done by preparing and planning a memorial together to help get you through the tough times. Use all the stories, photos and music that you have gathered (see points 1-6 above) to plan a Celebration of Life memorial for a time when it is once again possible to all gather together. Grief doesn’t just disappear in a few weeks or months. It may be just as important to remember and celebrate later this year or next.
If you are not sure how to go about organising a memorial ceremony, get in touch with a celebrant who can help you. You may want to have an online funeral ceremony now to help process your loss and get used to the person’s absence, and then concentrate on preparing a wonderful Celebration of Life for the future.
8) Understand that everyone grieves in their own way, and there is no right way to grieve
It may feel obvious to you that something needs to happen in a certain way to remember or mourn the person who has died, but we are all so different. You might need to be around others, but someone you want to be with wants to be alone. So make open offers. Do things and be willing for no one to show up (currently on-line!), but still do it because it feels right to you. You might make your playlist alone or you might be flooded with songs from family and friends. Whatever it is, do it to honour and remember the person you love, if others aren’t ready to join you, that’s OK. What you create will be there for them later, when they are ready.
Valerie Marshall is a Wedding, Baby Naming, Renewal of Vows and Funeral Celebrant based in the Western Lake District.