How to Plan a Virtual Funeral
8 Tips to Virtually Celebrate Your Loved One’s Life
Though social distancing has changed how we honor loved ones after a death, gathering family and friends is even more critical as we face restrictions to our physical contact.
Virtual or hybrid (in-person and virtual) gatherings, when done well, can help you feel connected and supported, while also allowing for more flexibility and creativity than traditional events. When planning your virtual ceremony, consider the following elements.
- Create a Planning Team
Although many people will gather to celebrate your loved one, there are usually three to five people who are most invested. Who will care most about the content of your celebration? Who has administrative or technical skills to offer? Once you have your team, make sure you consult with them early in the planning process.
- Simplify Decision-Making
When planning large events, there may be many competing interests. Working through everyone’s ideas and suggestions, while managing your own grief, can become overwhelming. To simplify your decision-making process, use your planning team as a guide. Consider what will make the event most meaningful for them as you make decisions.
- Keep Traditions in New Ways
We often rely on family or cultural traditions, religion, or “how we did it before” to plan funeral and memorial events. If everyone were physically gathered together in one place, what would you normally do?
Once you determine which traditions to include, give yourself room to create new rituals. You can incorporate things that were meaningful to your loved one. For example: candle lighting, singing, readings of poems and verses, and special toasts. Did she like Twizzlers or the color orange? Ask your guests to bring her favorite food or wear clothes branded with his favorite sports team. Virtual events encourage creativity and flexibility, which will make your event truly memorable and personally meaningful.
- Consider the Tone
Think about the tone you want to set for your gathering. How do you want the occasion to feel? Will it change over time? For example, you could consider a more somber tone for the beginning and move to an uplifting or celebratory tone as the event progresses. Your order of events, program, speakers, and music choices can all help set the tone.
- Organize Event Contributors
Once you have everyone gathered, who will be on screen? Do you want to include an officiant, clergy, celebrant, singer, or musician? Within the inner circle, who will want to speak, on which topics, and in what order? What time zones are they in and is someone available to coordinate them? Holding a brief rehearsal prior to your event helps ease nerves and work out technical issues. Finally, make sure to have someone available to troubleshoot connection issues that may come up during the event.
- Create and Share Event Materials
Once you finalize participants, consider how you’d like to communicate with your guests during the event. You can provide an electronic program and share it during the event to keep everyone on the same page. Choose a musical selection to play with the program while guests are joining. Slideshows filled with photos, videos, and favorite music are often part of traditional events and can be meaningfully translated to screen. You may also consider sending an electronic thank you to your guests afterwards with your memorial page link and more information. Whichever elements you create, be sure to plan and practice the technical aspects of communicating with guests ahead of time for a seamless event.
- Include Everyone
Surprisingly, virtual or hybrid events can feel even more personal than physical events because everyone can see each other’s faces up close and can feel “together.” Consider amplifying this sense of connection by encouraging guests to participate in easy ways. What were your loved one’s interests or hobbies—what did he or she love? Consider asking guests to bring an object, article of clothing, or a beverage as a tribute and sharing them during the event, along with stories and memories.
- Rehearse the Technical Elements
Prior to your event, make sure you are comfortable running the necessary technical elements. This may mean rehearsing muting/unmuting participants, sharing media such as a slideshow and program, checking volume levels and sound feedback, ensuring speakers and guests know how to connect and have good internet speed, and making a plan to troubleshoot any unexpected technical issues during the event.
If you want help with planning, facilitation, tech support, audiovisuals and design, the GatheringUs team will work with you to create a meaningful and personal event. We free you up, so you can be fully present with your community. Contact GatheringUs to learn more.