By Mary Hickey
Like most of you, I’ve never been advised to “shelter in place” and the term “social distancing” was not a part of my vernacular. But the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed all that, and many of our loved ones, especially our elders or those with compromised immune systems, are in danger.
How are we going to celebrate their lives should they succumb to the virus in the coming days, weeks and months? How are we going to honor those who will pass away by natural causes, or sadly, by tragedy during these times when gathering together is not possible? The populations who will most likely die in the largest proportion are going to be the elderly. Therefore the people who would have been attending the funeral or life celebration are also going to be 60 years or older. The elderly population with underlying health issues is most susceptible to this virus. Clearly the last thing we need is coming together and putting people at risk. At the same time, surrounding one another is exactly what we need in times of sorrow. It’s crucial to give ourselves, as well as the family and friends of the departed, a time and place to grieve. Experts are saying this virus may be around for months. Where is the best place to do this to insure the safety of all? The answer is virtually on your phone, tablet or computer.
Just as we’ve seen in Italy, celebrations can happen by coordination, and suddenly everyone is opening their windows and singing at the same time. A virtual funeral can be arranged in much the same way. As with planning a typical funeral, you will want to let people know the date when your life celebration will be taking place via a standard obituary in the newspaper, an announcement on Facebook, through an email, text messages, phone calls and even handwritten invitations.
Family and friends will find an added benefit that with a virtual funeral it will eliminate the rush for them to make airline reservations, hotel reservations and spend a lot of money they most likely didn’t have in their budget. If they have prior commitments at the time of the virtual funeral almost all of the platforms allow you to record it and share the link for viewing at a later time.
If you think you may be losing a loved soon, why not make the best of your time at home? Why not go through our boxes of old photos and review all of those pictures on our computers and phones? Scanning in photos of your loved one, adding in pictures of favorite memories, and downloading his or her favorite music will not only personalize the event, but also it can add the warmth that is so needed during times of loss.
You can also familiarize yourself with the many platforms that you might be using to virtually assemble your loved ones such as zoom.us, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, Skype and YouTube Live.
There’s a lot to do when planning a funeral and planning a virtual one is no different. The following checklist will give you a head start. If you think you may need to host a virtual funeral here are some things you can do to get a head start:
YOUR VIRTUAL FUNERAL GUIDE
• Test various platforms with a friend to see which you prefer. I recommend zoom.us. If you are not familiar with the video conferencing you’ll want to go to their website zoom website and click on meetings and watch the video showing how it works.
• Start collecting emails and phone numbers of friends and family members who would most likely want to attend the funeral. Texting the link to the service is also an option.
• Gather photos and if they aren’t digital you’ll want to start scanning or taking pictures of the photos and storing them in a folder. When the time comes, you can ask friends and family to share their photos as well.
• Plan to have a Power Point presentation of the photos. You can ask a friend or family member for help with the Power Point presentation if you are not familiar with the program. The zoom.com video conferencing system allows you to post a power point presentation, videos, photos or any file from your computer.
• Put together a music playlist of your loved one’s favorite songs. Consider having a musician and or singer present.
• Plan on putting together a memory table of items that were important to the person (I’d want a pickle ball paddle and a box or two of See’s candy on my table). The table can be in the background on the screen and displayed in a photo shown in the Power Point presentation.
• It’s important to allow attendees tuning in to be able to share their memories live during the event or ahead of time. You’ll want to capture those memories and archive them. Most of the platforms allow attendees to post memories they’d like to share.
• Think about who you would want in your small group to be present. These would be friends and family who would be giving eulogies and perhaps a musician or vocalist. Keep in mind you will want to social distance yourselves so keep the group very small (at this time the limit is 10 attendees).
• Do you have a quiet room without the interruption of barking dogs or crying children where you could host the service? A funeral home may still be the ideal place to meet. Many funeral directors are familiar with the technology that enables people to view the service without being present so inquire with funeral homes when you are making arrangements.
• Plan to have an order of service printed that you can share before the service and show it behind you at the service.
• Most importantly have a dry run before the service maybe even the day before so people can get familiar with the technology before the service. At the dry run, you could have a virtual toast online where everyone joins in for a drink of the departed’s favorite beverage the night before the service to help everyone get their phone, tablet or computer ready.
• Plan to record the service and share with everyone so they are not panicked that they missed it. Computers can go dark, the internet can go down, and batteries can die, so recording the service is a must.
• Pay attention to the sound. Some of your audience may be hard of hearing so make sure to test the microphone and make sure everyone who speaks can be understood.
If you think you may be invited to attend a virtual funeral here is how you can prepare. If you are not technologically savvy, now would be a good time to ask for help from someone you know who is.
• Download the app that the host has chosen well in advance.
• If you have a dated desktop computer, you will want to gain access to a computer, camera or tablet with a camera and a microphone.
• Go through your photo albums and phone to collect your favorite photos of the departed so you can share with the host.
• Spread the word about the service to friends of the departed and offer to help via a phone call to get their electronic device working in time for the service.
As with in-person funerals, at which a favor or token of remembrance is offered, It would also be nice to send attendees a little something to keep the memory of the departed alive. It is always comforting to have something to physically touch in memory of those no longer with us. A seedling with a personalized note inviting people to plant the tree to remember the departed would be a nice touch and great for our environment. A personalized plantable butterfly bookmark would also give them something to hold on to and remember their friend or family member would also be a nice option. You can find both products at next gen memorials.
This virus is forever changing the way we socialize, shop, learn, work and get medical care. Will this pandemic change the way we celebrate the life of the departed? Absolutely. The bottom line is, get ready now so you aren’t stressed with the details of putting something together when you are emotionally drained from the loss.