The coronavirus pandemic has made it very difficult for families to receive the level of support from their community that they would typically receive when a loved one passes. Previously, in addition to the funeral service, people were able to drop by the family's house, visit with them during calling hours and share stories with them at the wake. Outside of these funeral events, those who had lost a loved one could also get support from friends and family out and about in their community and at other social gatherings.
Live-streaming or recording an intimate funeral service for the family, and incorporating some creative touches to make it feel extra meaningful, is a wonderful start. But there are many ways you can go above and beyond for your families to help them get more of the support from their communities that they so need during this time of social distancing.
1. Virtual Calling Hours
Help the family have a sense of normalcy by recreating traditional in-person calling hours/receiving line, and allow the community to express their condolences.
Set aside a defined block of time for the family to receive visitors in a 1:1 video conferencing call. I recommend using Gruveo, which is a one-click video conferencing tool with a virtual “queue.” Visitors can click to video chat with the family, and if they are already speaking with someone else, will be added to a waiting line until their call is answered. You can even display a custom message to them at this time, such as information for the funeral service or requests from the family like where to share a memory or donate to charity.
If you're more comfortable with Zoom, using the "waiting room" feature is another good, easy-to-use option for virtual calling hours. The family can "admit" visitors one at a time from the waiting room to visit with them one-on-one. However, they won't know who has been waiting longest, so you may want to consider creating a visitation schedule for visitors, e.g. assign people a 30-minute time slot in which to join the Zoom.
2. Virtual Funeral Reception
One of the most cathartic parts of a funeral can be the reception and other gatherings following the funeral service. Hold an online version of this event with the video conferencing tool Zoom. Unlike a live stream, everyone is together in the same virtual “room” and can see and hear each other, making it feel more interactive.
Plan in advance to have someone open the event and lay out some general guidelines, e.g. keep yourself on mute if not speaking, have some planned speakers tell stories to set the tone, then offer time for anyone else who wants to share. You’ll want to have at least one person designated to moderate the event as the emcee, and another to manage the technical side of things. As an added benefit, you can record the entire event as a keepsake for the family.
Consider sending this short guide to attendees in advance, which explains how to join and participate in a virtual memorial. Also, make sure to use a Zoom “waiting room” when setting up the meeting to combat the unfortunate trend of “Zoombombing.”
3. Future In-Person Celebration of Life Event
Think of the time between the funeral service and the end of restrictions on gatherings as an opportunity to plan together with the family for an in-person memorial service in the future – a spectacular celebration of life event that uniquely celebrates their person.
Planning for this event may resemble planning for a wedding more so than a typical funeral service. You’ll have months to prepare, attendees may be in a different emotional state than the one they were in at the funeral, and the attendee count may be higher than a traditional funeral as guests will have lots of time to make travel arrangements. Consider what special touches you can incorporate like musical performances, display tables or guest favors. You may like to consult with an event planner to help you flex your event planning skill set for this new use case.
By helping the family through this planning process, they will have something to build toward and engage other people in their support system to help them plan.
Other Ways to Support Client Families
When you speak to friends and relatives of your families, or in messaging you put out on your social media page and website, consider encouraging families to lean into memory and condolence sharing which will provide families a visible reminder that others are thinking of them and their loved one. Or use a tool like LifeWeb 360 designed to build a community of long-term support around a bereaved family, anchored in memory sharing. Wherever stories and photos are shared, they can be aggregated and used to add special touches to the future in-person celebration of life event.
LifeWeb 360 and New Narrative Memorials have created a two-page summary of best practices here for planning these and other memorial events during the coronavirus pandemic. You can also download their full, 60-page reference guide here to follow along with step-by-step instructions and screenshots.
Ali Briggs is the CEO of LifeWeb 360.
About LifeWeb 360: LifeWeb helps friends and family create a multimedia scrapbook in memory of a loved one. Stories and photos shared are organized by life theme, and can be transformed into a physical book. The entire community impacted by a loss is equipped to capture the person’s essence, and to support the family in the long-term with reminders and ideas for checking in with them.
About New Narrative: New Narrative is an events company which offers a range of planning and consulting services for families. They exist to be a supportive and creative guide for families and funeral directors planning personalized celebration of life events.