How to create online memorials and host virtual funerals to honor lost loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic. 

To compound the pain of losing a loved one, Covid-19 social distancing requirements are preventing people from coming together to grieve in traditional ways. Rather than mourning with heartfelt hugs and overflowing tables of comfort food, the bereaved are turning to online memorials and virtual funerals to come together - while staying apart. 

The use of virtual funerals is partially out of choice but is growing out of necessity. Many houses of worship are shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic and funeral homes in the hardest hit cities are overwhelmed, having to turn grieving families away. 

Even without this global disruption, online memorials have been growing in popularity for years. The current crisis has simply increased awareness. Some of these websites are also offering virtual funerals as part of their services, but there are other platforms specifically dedicated to video chat that families can use.

Best Online Memorial Websites 

Keeper: Since 2013, Keeper has been offering families an easy-to-use and free way to preserve and share memories of lost loved ones. This online memorial website offers beautiful pages that can be tailored to best honor your beloved. You can add endless amounts of content, including photos, videos, and life history. You can also allow others to contribute and collaborate so tribute can be paid to every aspect of your lost loved one’s life. 

During the coronavirus crisis, Keeper has started offering virtual streaming options to help those in mourning keep safe while social distancing. Additionally, there is an option to geotag your loved one’s final resting place. A geotag is an electronic marker that denotes a specific geographical location, so mourners can visit to pay their respects at a later date. 

Gathering Us: Gathering Us allows users to post free obituaries and offers many of the same features as Keeper, including photo and memory sharing services. They also have a space for virtual gatherings and the ability to create private group chats so your inner circle can coordinate logistics.  A unique feature that sets them apart is that this online memorial website also allows for donations for charity and funeral expenses. 

Forever Missed: Forever Missed has a free basic version for users to create an online memorial for their loved one and options to upgrade your membership with monthly, annual, or lifetime accounts. The basic membership is easy to use and has a large gallery of templates to customize to best honor your departed. You can write a biography, share memories, light virtual candles, and submit tributes. There is no limit to the amount of collaborators you can invite to add to this online memorial with your personalized web address. 

Ever Plans: Rather than having your loved ones piece together the most important parts of your life after you’ve passed, you can be in control of your own story. Ever Plans allows you to be a hero to your family by taking the guesswork out of finding useful information and heartwarming stories. Your family wants to hold on to memories of you; what better gift is there? 

This website is user-friendly and helps you get all your most important information organized. In addition to creating a living memorial, you can get all of your documents ready to be accessed in one easy to find place. You can organize your wills, life insurance policies, healthcare documents, digital accounts, and even your crucial pet information. By having this all in order beforehand, you can focus on what’s really important - protecting your legacy

How to Come Together with Virtual Funerals

Adding salt to our wounds, social distancing is depriving mourners of grieving in ways they would wish. Some are turning to technology to come together while staying safely apart. Here are some popular platforms that people are using to support one another and to host virtual funerals.

Zoom: Launched in 2011, Zoom is a dedicated chat platform that has been rapidly growing in popularity due to Covid-19. It is top ranked among customer reviews as it is user-friendly, reliable, and has free options that are easy to scale up to connect with more people. For instance, Zoom Pro allows users to conference with up to 100 people for an affordable price. This has proven to be an ideal option for people hosting virtual funerals. 

Google Hangouts: If you already have a Gmail account, you’re just a click away from getting started with Google Hangouts. The free option works nicely for people looking to comfort each other while mourning, allowing for up to 10 people to video chat. But if you want to host a larger gathering, like for an online funeral, you will need to upgrade to include up to 100 people. 

An attractive feature with Google Hangouts is that users can share photos, maps, emojis, stickers and GIFs. You can also sync your chats with other devices and it’s applicable across Android, IOS, and the web. 

Skype: The senior of the troop, Skype is the most well-known and also has free options available. Using Microsoft’s network, video and audio conferencing can be conducted with up to 50 people. A couple helpful features for virtual funerals is the ability to record calls and enable live captions. The downfall of Skype is that it tends to lag if there is a spotty connection. This can affect the quality of the sound and visual. 

How to Host a Virtual Funeral 

Planning a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic remains largely the same. There are just some logistical differences that need to be considered. If you are hosting a virtual funeral from a funeral home or place of worship, be sure to ask the following questions when interviewing venues:

  1. Has a virtual funeral been hosted at this location before?

  2. Do you have a reliable internet connection?

  3. Do you have video conferencing and recording capabilities?

  4. Are the appropriate tech hookups available? 

  5. Is there a staff member who is available for technical support? 

If you are unable to find a venue that meets your needs, hosting at home is a respectable alternative. Simply make sure you have the right video conferencing equipment and software available. 

Whether you are hosting in a place of worship, funeral home, or in the comfort of your own home, you will follow essentially the same steps.

  1. Send online invitations from a source such as Evite or Punchbowl. These websites are also offering virtual gatherings and invitations specifically crafted for virtual gatherings. 

  2. Include a link to attend your virtual funeral with the time and date in the ecard. 

  3. Remember that not all guests are tech-savvy or have video conferencing capabilities. Create clear instructions and reach out to those who may need help. 

  4. Record the service so you can send it to loved ones who are unable to attend.

  5. Have one person act as an officiant. Ask a religious leader, funeral director, or a member of the family. 

  6. Coordinate with guests that are speaking to ensure their equipment is working properly and that they have the schedule.

  7. Run through the ceremony to work out any glitches beforehand. 

As for the virtual service itself, you can follow the same structure as if you were gathering with your loved ones in person. Make sure that your guests have the itinerary, which can be included in the online invitation. This is basically an online version of the paper itinerary that would be handed out at a traditional funeral.

The common structure of a funeral, whether virtual or in-person, typically follows this format:

  1. Welcome to the guests

  2. Reading or prayer

  3. Musical selection

  4. Eulogy 

  5. Tributes and speeches

  6. Closing

Remember that this is new to nearly everyone. Ask for help and outsource tasks to people you trust. Patience and understanding are key. 

Virtual Funeral Etiquette Tips

To attend a virtual funeral, all you need is a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Then you can follow the link that the host has sent to you. Find out if you need to download an app in advance or if you can just visit a webpage to attend at the time of the service.

If you are speaking, you will need to ensure you have access to a camera and microphone on the device you are planning on using. Test all your equipment beforehand and be available to run through the ceremony with the host prior to the funeral. 

Once the technical side is sorted out, attend the virtual funeral as if you were in person. Treat this somber occasion with the respect and dignity that it deserves.

  1. Dress appropriately. Wear respectful clothing and groom much as you would if you were attending a funeral in person. 

  2. Be aware of your surroundings. The camera will pick up your background, so choose a location that is not distracting, messy, or noisy. 

  3. Mute your microphone when you are not talking so you are not interfering with the service. Even if your home seems quiet, multiply your minor background noise by 100 people and imagine how noisy this will be to fellow attendees. 

  4. Do not eat, play with other devices or your keyboard, or do anything else you would not do if sitting at a funeral home in person. 

  5. Stay seated, present, and use attentive body language.

  6. If there is an option to leave condolences in a chat or other social media, do so as if you were writing in a heartfelt greeting card. 

A virtual funeral is not typically a family’s first choice when grieving. Following some best practices on etiquette for live streaming online memorials will enable you to be respectful and present can go a long way when supporting loved ones in mourning.