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If you’re walking a loved one through end-of-life during COVID-19, you may feel worried about how you’ll navigate their service and honor their memory with so many restrictions and stay-at-home orders in place, preventing loved ones from traveling or gathering together to honor your loved one. At Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetary, we have helped many families plan virtual funerals that honor and celebrate the life of the deceased and provide an opportunity for those left behind to connect, remember, and grieve together.

Here’s what we’ve learned that may be helpful to you as you walk through these trying times:

#1 – Select an experienced funeral home

Technology is tricky and rarely works well the first time. Choose a funeral home who has conducted virtual services and refined their processes and technology already. While there’s no surefire way to prevent technical issues, choosing an experienced funeral home will greatly reduce the risk of technology failures or operator errors.

#2 – Be inclusive when creating the guest list

There are multiple factors that can lead you to limit the guestlist for a traditional funeral, like the capacity of the venue, the budget, and the physical and financial limitations of potential attendees. None of these issues are barriers when you plan a virtual funeral, so you can create an inclusive attendee list that leaves no one out.

#3 – Be creative about tradition

Planning a virtual funeral may leave you feeling as if you’ve missed out on part of the experience, like dining in fellowship with loved ones. Consider creative ways to continue traditions that are important in your family:

  • send all guests the same recipe and ask them to join you in preparing and enjoying your loved one’s favorite meal (from their homes) following the service
  • ask attendees to do something in memory of your loved one at the same time, wherever they are, like planting a tree, take a swim or sing a favorite song
  • create a Facebook page inviting those who knew and loved the decedent to share their favorite memories
  • ask everyone to dress accordingly – perhaps in the decedent’s favorite color or something that reflects his or her personality or interests

#4 – Be intentional about invitations

Electronic invitations will be a must as they’ll share important information about the service, including the link attendees need in order to connect. Electronic invitations alone have worked well for many families, who have enjoyed the convenience and cost savings, while others have elected to design print invitations too. Print invitations pay homage to tradition and provide those closest to the deceased with a memento they can keep.

#5 – Share information about donations

Common etiquette leads friends of the family to send a floral spray for the funeral when a loved one passes away, but this may not be necessary or possible in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; in fact, many floral shops are not open for business right now. Provide preferences for donations in lieu of flowers in order to steer donors in the right direction: “In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the American Diabetes Association in Lois’ honor.”

#6 – Don’t give up on visitation

You may be wondering how you can still hold a visitation in the current circumstances. Virtual visitation is not only possible but can be even more intimate than traditional visitation. During traditional visitation, it can be difficult to get time with each visitor when several show up at the same time, and some may leave before getting to connect with the family, but virtual visitation consists of scheduled visits, allowing mourners to offer their condolences one-on-one.

#6 – Run through the service in advance

While you don’t have to run through the entire service, it’s helpful to practice initiating the live streaming, positioning the camera and microphone, and connecting those who are providing special music or speaking during the service. You should also practice connecting from home to identify the barriers your attendees are most likely to run into.

#7 – Use a live streaming platform that is simple to use (and doesn’t require downloads)

There are many streaming platforms that are easy to use and won’t require attendees to download new software, like YouTube Live and Facebook Live. Choose a user-friendly platform to accommodate the most diverse guest lists.

#8 – Staff somebody to help people who can’t connect

Ask the funeral home if they’re able to provide a resource (and a means of connecting like a phone number) for those who are having a hard time connecting to the service. This can help prevent the stress and hurt feelings that might accompany not being able to connect until it’s too late.

#9 – Record the service for those who can’t attend

Recording the service can provide a lasting memento for those nearest to your loved one and give those who couldn’t attend the live service an opportunity to watch it later. Consider sending the recording out to those who received an invitation to attend the live service.

#10 – Send clear instructions in advance

It’s important to share clear, step-by-step instructions prior to the service, recognizing that some attendees may not be familiar with basic computer navigation, like navigating to a website or connecting to the internet. Instructions should be broken down to accommodate and include screenshots: “Double-click on this icon,” and “Click in the address bar, pictured here.”

#11 – Send thank-you notes

The thank-you note is one traditional touch that can continue during this time of social distancing and shelter-in-place. Following the service, be sure to send hand-written thank-you notes to those who were there for you while you grieved your loss, sent cards, made donations in your loved one’s honor, or shared their talents for the service.

COVID-19 is changing the way we experience nearly every aspect of life, from school to work to healthcare, and unfortunately, even visitation during end of life and services following death. Partnering with a seasoned, compassionate funeral home can ensure the process honors the life of your loved one and meets your needs during this difficult time.