The coronavirus pandemic affected us all in different ways — many of us lost family members and friends unexpectedly and many of us know someone who lost a family member or friend. We are heartbroken for anyone who experienced a loss during the pandemic, but, most of all, we are heartbroken because we were not able to show our support in person with a hug or a few words of support at their funeral services. Our hearts ache to know these families were not able to be surrounded by the army of friends and relatives they’ve each had supporting them through other, less painful life events.
During the days of social distancing, funeral services looked a lot different than they did before the pandemic. Gatherings were, at one point, limited to 10 people or less, leaving some family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors searching for ways to show their support and celebrate the life of their loved one.
Funeral professionals stepped up with creativity and compassion to help their communities show love and support from a distance. The list below is just a sampling of some of the ways funeral directors cared for families and conducted meaningful funeral services during this crisis — these are also ways funeral directors can continue to connect with family members and friends unable to attend a loved one's service in person.
Live Stream Services
Funeral homes are using platforms like Facebook Live or YouTube to stream funeral services. This typically doesn’t require much technical equipment other than the camera on a smartphone or tablet set up on a tripod. Viewers can also send their condolences in the comments during the service. Be sure to include a link to the service in the deceased’s online obituary and encourage the family to share it as well. This is a simple and effective way to connect friends and family who want to pay their respects, while also building your social media audience.
VIRTUAL CALLING HOURS
Help the family have a sense of normalcy by recreating traditional in-person calling hours or a 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 for the 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.
Host a drive-through visitation. Invite friends and family to pass through your funeral home’s parking lot to greet immediate family members of the deceased and express their condolences without leaving their vehicles. The family can be comfortably situated just outside the front door, with tissues and snacks nearby, while still maintaining social distancing guidelines.
Line the Procession Route
Encourage family and friends to stand sentry along the route from the funeral home to the graveside service, maintaining the recommended social distance while still showing support for the family and respect for the deceased. In the obituary, be sure to share the route you will be taking and encourage attendees to maintain social distancing guidelines.
This can be a powerful show of support for both the family and members of the community. A school bus driver of more than 50 years recently passed away. Friends, family and students – past and present – lined the route with signs showing their love and appreciation. During the procession, the driver’s daughter sat in the lead car with the windows down, waving to those who came to show their support.
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.”
Hugs from Home
Through the Hugs from Home program, family and friends of the deceased submit messages for the family directly to the funeral home, either through an online submission form or in an email to the funeral director or office manager. The funeral home will handwrite the messages, tie them to balloon weights and place the balloons throughout their chapel so the family can see the support of their friends and relatives, even though only a few of them can attend the service in person. This is a powerful visual to show support for the family. Milner and Orr Funeral Home in Paducah, Kentucky, recently shared this on their website: “These balloons will fill our chapel as hugs for the families. They will be able to read your heartfelt messages and hopefully know that many others are there with them in spirit.”
What are some creative ways you have helped friends and family show support for those who have lost loved ones? Share your ideas in the comments below.