Experts: How to Create a Meaningful Virtual Memorial

During the pandemic, “Zoom funerals” and other online memorials have become the norm. And many experts think they’ll be around to stay even after we “return to normal” to help those who can’t travel or attend in-person events.

But because it can be tricky to create a service that’s both meaningful and glitch-free, we reached out to several of our friends and colleagues in the end-of-life community to get some expert advice on holding an online memorial service. Whether you hire a company to help you, or do a DIY event, we hope these tips can help create special memories.

Use a Memorial Website, Ali Briggs, LifeWeb360
Use a memorial website as your central place for sharing information on the memorial service and gathering memories. Having a website like LifeWeb 360 can help you as you work to get the word out about the service, rather than sharing a Zoom or Google link directly. That way, if you decide to change details later, everyone will be up-to-date, and you can ask attendees to share a memory on the page as a way to sign a virtual guestbook. You can download more ideas on planning a virtual memorial service here in a free guide created in collaboration with New Narrative Memorials.

Create a theme, Megan Sheldon, Be Ceremonial
A ceremony is a story; be sure that each speaker, or storyteller, fits into the larger story the family wants to tell. Look to music, photographs, videos and rituals to help tell that story, too. I suggest having each storyteller pick one word — a characteristic or a theme that they will focus on in their story, and invite them to pre-record their piece. That way, you can ensure people aren’t sharing the same aspects of the life that’s being honored, and together they can tell a more expansive, holistic story of a person’s life and the legacy they leave behind. It also makes for a more fluid event (without any unforeseen technical glitches!).

Celebrate passions, Noha Waibsnaider, GatheringUs
The most moving events focus on what the honoree was passionate about and celebrate that passion collectively. Some of our favorites have included everyone wearing Star Wars gear or a personally meaningful color, sharing a virtual meal because they liked food, and bringing candles for a candle-lighting ceremony. A virtual event provides a better venue than in-person events for sharing videos of the honoree and/or recorded tributes from family and friends. For example, a slideshow with a personal music playlist, and kids or grandkids singing or playing an instrument or reading a poem.

Encourage participation, Karen Bussen, Farewelling
People who are unable to attend in person and who may be far away can feel isolated and removed from the service. If you can come up with a way to encourage participation, we recommend it. This can be as simple as taking a moment at a certain point and asking folks to share a word or phrase in the chat that comes to mind when they think of the person who is being honored. The host or emcee might read off some of those words, or music could play for a moment or two in the background while words float up and up in the chat. Setting a dress code can be another way of allowing people to participate and be as simple as “bright colors,” “all white” or sports jerseys.

Assign tasks ahead of time, Effie Anolik, Afterword
It’s important to assign tasks before you get started. You may be comfortable with video conferencing, but in this case, it’s best to get some help so you can sit back and take it all in. Have someone responsible for muting and unmuting guests, playing recordings, and spotlighting the person speaking. You can also work with a company like ours or use the software that we’ve built to do this automatically so you can take it all in.

Though most agree that though they’ll never be the same as “the real thing,” virtual memorial services make space for grief and connection.

We hope these tips help you create a meaningful virtual memorial for your loved one where family and friends can remember their life and legacy.

Photo by Chris Montgomery

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