The surprising comfort of virtual funerals

This year, it seems the ways in which we do anything and everything have changed. We’ve adapted to distanced-learning and working from home. We meet up for virtual Happy Hour, Zoom into weddings, and send recorded birthday wishes to our friends and family. But what about when it’s not such a happy occasion? What happens when we experience loss and need the comfort of our community?

Traditional life events and the way they happen are ingrained in us. Change is always hard, but throw in grief and a pandemic and it can feel insurmountable. At first, you might feel resistant, wanting to delay a memorial for your someone until you can gather in person, but major loss needs to be shared and supported. Grief happens in real time. The virtual funeral has turned out to be an invaluable addition to the way we grieve. And, pandemic or not, it’s here to stay.

2020 has been full of can’ts. You can’t gather. You can’t hug. You can’t carry out your usual traditions and rituals. But all is not lost. Here’s what a virtual funeral brings to the table.

You can grieve together. If you’re able to gather partially in-person, you can livestream the services for those who couldn’t make it. You can have virtual guests participate in the in-person gathering too. If you decide to do an entirely virtual service, you can pre-record your speeches and then move on to an open forum where everyone can have a chance to unmute, reflect, and be present for each other. People around the world can grieve together and the result is a beautiful and healing reminder that you are not alone.

You can make showing up easy. The most important part of funerals is that your someone’s community can show up. Virtual funerals, whether they are entirely remote or a hybrid addition to your in-person service, make it easy and accessible for the maximum number of people to lend you their support and process their own grief. Without fail, there are always some members of your someone’s family or friend-circle who can’t get there due to their kids’ crazy schedules, have to go to that work conference out of town, or end up stuck behind a crazy blizzard. With virtual elements to your someone’s service, everyone can make it.

You can connect. You can invite your guests to participate in a sharing circle to tell their favorite stories about your someone. At a typical funeral, people tend to clump with who they know — family with family, friends with friends, colleagues with colleagues — and so many stories get missed! Laughing at a story you’ve somehow never heard about your someone (even virtually) creates the connection we long for in hard times.

You can customize. Virtual services lend themselves to expansive collaboration. You can share videos, photo slideshows, or playlists directly with your guests to tell your someone’s life story. With the flexibility of pre-recording and live-streaming, you can have exactly the speakers and musical tributes you want, regardless of distance or availability. It can also be a more affordable option for you and your guests, prioritizing what is really important — the communal sharing of memories — over the travel expenses, catering platters, and venue rental.

You can take your time to plan. We spend months planning most of life’s special events, from milestone birthday parties to weddings, but when it comes to memorial services and funerals, the process often happens very quickly and ends up just being the best it could be for the moment. Virtual services give you the option to plan the service on your schedule, so you don’t have to race the clock on something this important. You can put thought and care into how you want to memorialize your someone.

You can be in the moment. At the end of the day, when you’re the one doing the planning, organizing, and facilitating, a live, in-person event is a lot of running around. With a virtual service, you can be in your comfort zone (and maybe even some comfy pants) without having to worry about logistics or making sure you check in with your guests. You deserve the chance to take in the day just like everyone else. There’s no one way to memorialize your someone. There’s no one way to grieve. With virtual funerals, you can create an event that works for you and your community.

Published on November 22, 2020

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