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  1. Home
  2. Sympathy Articles
  3. Virtual Funerals: Planning, Attending, and Etiquette

Virtual funerals: Planning, attending and expressing condolences

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The coronavirus pandemic has severely limited our ability to mourn in person with others over the last several months. Unfortunately, there is little sign of large group gatherings being made safe and easy on the immediate horizon. And yet, when we lose a loved one, the need to say goodbye is very real.

Fortunately, the digital age has created many new ways to observe this ritual, support those who are grieving and make us feel together even when we are apart. Some of them are so low-touch and cost effective (and many of them are free of charge) that it’s possible that even when this crisis abates, they may become mainstays in our mourning rituals so as to allow far away loved ones to participate.

  • If you are planning a virtual funeral and have no idea where to start, look at one of the several excellent free virtual memorial guides online (we particularly like this one), which guide you through everything from considering the format and tone to guidance for participants and managing your tech requirements (no need to be a pro).

  • Look for a digital platform that aligns with your desired outcome, such as LifeWeb360 or GatheringUs (these also provide free memorial scrapbook services). The service may be virtual but the participation can be very real. Consider asking people to participate by requesting they prepare readings, songs, anecdotes or eulogies in advance. When the technology works well, this can make for an extremely poignant event.

  • If you want to keep it simple and plan this without a service platform, there are several options. Get a one-month subscription to Zoom (or use Jitsi for free). If you’d like to stream or broadcast a simple ceremony from your home to people who can comment and react but not actively participate in the event, you can use Facebook Live or YouTube for free (though keep in mind that anyone else you want to participate would have to be in the same location as you).

  • Have you been invited to attend a virtual funeral or memorial? Even though you won’t be there in person, if you’re using the video function (which we recommend, as it will comfort the mourners to see familiar faces), you should still consider dressing for the event with respect (brush out that hair, put on a nice outfit -- or at least a nice top). Choose an appropriate background free of visual distractions (and especially if you have been invited to speak during the ceremony). And expect that out of respect for the family, your video and microphone will likely be automatically disabled and muted, but you will likely be able to interact with them by using the chat functionality.

  • Looking for ways to effectively express your condolences to someone who is grieving in relative isolation? A heartfelt, well-written sympathy card is always a good way to go (with the operative term being “heartfelt.”) And as long as the sentiments are real, the delivery method (mailed or digital) shouldn’t matter. Also consider sending 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, and setting 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).

  • After the service, make sure that you take care of your needs as a grieving person. Consider finding a good grief counselor and joining an online grief group which will remind you that even though you may be physically alone, you are part of a powerful community of people from around the world who can commiserate, empathize with and inspire you moving forward.

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.