As of late summer, the United States is well on its way to having lost 200,000 people to the COVID-19 pandemic; a nearly unimaginable number. And that’s not even counting deaths to other illness, accidents or old age. This year we have been forced to move through so much sickness, death and grief in relative physical isolation from communities whose physical presence would provide us immeasurable comfort. And we will likely be managing waves of social distancing for the foreseeable future.
We know it’s so hard to be apart. But there are so many creative and profound ways in which we can both honor the relationship with those we lost and also pull each other in during these extremely challenging times.
Create a virtual altar where people can leave messages, photos of food offerings, videos of family and friends singing a song, reciting a prayer or poem, photos of flowers, or artwork. Digital platforms such as Tribute are a free and easy way to do this.
Host a virtual dinner in your person’s honor. Ask guests to make one of your person’s favorite dishes (either assign them one or, if they knew them well, have them choose), and share an anecdote behind each one.
Plan a meaningful online remembrance. So many free digital tools—from Zoom to LifeWeb360—are available to help friends and family gather together to tell stories, support one another and facilitate virtual end-of-life events.
If you are limited to a small, in-person funeral, you can still ask people to participate virtually by requesting they prepare readings, songs or eulogies they prepare in advance.
Create a small memorial in your home or garden (with plantings, rock garden, photos, meaningful objects).
Create a crowd-sourced group playlist on Spotify and invite people to add songs that remind them of your person.
Have a Netflix party with one of their favorite movies (you can still watch a movie “together” and chat in real-time).
Actively plan for an in-person memorial at a later date, when social distancing restrictions ease. Remember: This, too, shall pass.
Ask permission to be helpful with arranging logistical tasks (planning a virtual funeral, having meals sent over, helping with financial or legal forms).
Send a meal delivery gift card, which allows people to easily ensure they nourish themselves without having to spend a lot of time or energy figuring out how.
Set a calendar reminder to check in with them regularly via text, Zoom or phone calls (if you have a group of the same friends, organize a schedule for regular check-ins).
Record your memories of their person and share with them; this is a priceless gift to the grieving.
Make a note in your calendar of days that might typically be difficult, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and major holidays (while also remembering that a normal Tuesday could be just as hard for them).
Make a donation in their person’s memory based on something they were passionate about.
Plan fun connections (Netflix watch parties, looking at old photos, do a virtual exercise class together).
Practice active listening, which demonstrates genuine empathy. Imagine what it must be like to be in their shoes by asking questions and normalizing and validating their feelings.
Don't know what to say? Admit it, but also say that you care about them and are there to support them.
This article was authored by Modern Loss, which offers candid conversation about grief and meaningful community throughout the long arc of loss. Learn more at modernloss.com and the book Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome.