A Guide to Planning Memorial Services Amid COVID-19

A guide to planning a Memorial Service during COVID.

Planning memorial services during quarantine often creates another sense of loss during a time that’s already rife with grief. Wakes, viewings, funerals, shivas and other religious and cultural traditions associated with the passing of a loved one are a departure from what we are used to because of the pandemic. And though the services may also differ from pre-planned arrangements, you don’t have to postpone memorial services indefinitely. It’s still possible for friends and extended family members to pay their last respects, mourn collectively and find comfort in each other. Use this guide to aid the planning process, honor your loved one and grieve safely. 

Make online funeral arrangements.

When a loved one passes, one of the first things you’ll need to do is schedule an arrangement conference with a funeral director. This meeting can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be held in person. Many funeral directors are practicing physical distancing by using virtual meeting apps like Zoom or GoToMeeting. If it is necessary to get together in-person, don’t shake hands before or after the meeting and follow other CDC recommendations. Similarly, virtual meetings can be scheduled with clergy members, cemetery or mausoleum coordinators, etc.

Decide what’s most important and eliminate or adapt as necessary.

As you speak with the funeral director, keep an open mind when discussing your options in relation to the social gathering guidelines in your area. You may have to eliminate some traditions and modify others. Not everything will be exactly as you imagined because of potential health concerns, but that’s OK. There are ways to celebrate the life of your loved one and make it safer for mourners to pay their last respects

For instance, many people opt to forego viewings and visitations altogether during the pandemic. But if that is something that’s important to you, a vehicle viewing may be possible. The casket is placed just inside the funeral home where it can be seen through glass doors. Attendees offer condolences to surviving family members from their vehicles. Some have used a similar approach for sitting shiva, with family members in the front yard rather than inside the home.

Take precautions during and after the memorial services.

Whatever rites and rituals you choose to memorialize your loved one, it’s important to the well-being of those around you to take precautions. Wear masks while singing or chanting to prevent the spread of airborne particulates and don’t share songbooks. Rope off every other pew or place chairs at a safe distance for those who are not living in the same household. This is easily accomplished outside by strategically placing shade/rain canopies six feet apart. Perhaps the hardest precaution to take is resisting the urge to hug others who come to pay their last respects, but it is necessary.     

Getting together for a meal after the memorial service is a tradition in many cultures and religions. Under current circumstances, however, it’s better not to serve food at all. If this is something that is truly important to you, individually packaged portions are preferable to buffets, potlucks and family-style meals.

Livestream the funeral.

Holding a hybrid physical/virtual funeral is nothing new. Many funeral homes had interactive webcasting software in place long before the pandemic so friends and relatives who couldn’t travel could still attend virtually, and already know how to livestream a funeral expertly. Speak with the funeral director about the best way to livestream the memorial so it doesn't feel like an impersonal business meeting. Zoom funerals are a viable option, but not the only option.

Online obituaries are especially helpful as you plan a funeral during quarantine. Include a link to the live feed of the memorial services and share it on social media to make it easy for virtual attendees to join. After the service, you can replace it with a link to a recording of the memorial services for those who weren’t able to attend or want to watch it again.

Invite virtual attendees to participate.

Don’t limit the speakers to the handful of people who are physically at the memorial. Ask a few who are attending virtually to read a poem or share a story. During the service, you can also invite everyone to share stories, condolences and photos in an online memorial guestbook like that found on theMemories.com. This helps bridge the distance between the community of mourners, bringing comfort to all. 

Consider planning additional gatherings when restrictions are lifted.

Everyone experiences grief differently and finds closure in their own way. You may or may not want to hold virtual services now and plan a larger get together when gathering restrictions are lifted. The future event doesn’t have to be a formal funeral. You could host a dinner with extended family members to celebrate the life of your loved one. Or, you might want to complete a group service project in their honor instead. 

How you choose to memorialize your lost loved one during the pandemic is a highly personal decision, but you’re not alone in the planning process. Funeral directors, clergy, friends and family can help you make modifications to reduce the spread of COVID-19 now, as well as plan future gatherings when it’s safe to do so.