12 Ways You Can Pay Respects If You're Far Away

Certified Grief Counselor

Published on:

When a "shelter-in-place" mandate is in effect, and you've been ordered to avoid all non-essential business and travel, there's little you can do to avoid staying at home and adhering to the government's enacted policies. To avoid escalating an already dire situation, most state and local governments have required its citizens to stay at home to prevent the spread of disease. Sadly, death waits for no good time to announce itself. But it begs the question, what happens then when you get the news that a loved one has died and there is no in-person funeral?

Unfortunately, when a pandemic or similar disastrous situations are happening, visitation at hospitals and attendance at funerals can be limited or altogether eliminated. With COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC has set in place certain restrictions to prevent or curtail the spread of disease. They've done so to prioritize the health and safety of the public. If you are experiencing loss in the middle of serious uncertainty, the following ways may help you pay respects while in quarantine.

1. Create a Video Memorial

When a family has opted to not have a funeral service, or a global crisis like COVID-19 has made it impossible to hold one, you can still honor the life of the person who died and pay your final respects.

One way is by creating a video memorial to share with family and friends. You can ask everyone in your social circle who knew them well to participate by sending you photographs and sharing stories about the deceased. You can then turn these memories into a video that you send out electronically to everyone who participated.

2. Video Chat With the Family

When you are unable to make the journey to pay respects, consider video chatting with the family to offer your words of sympathy and condolences. There are free apps you can download so that anyone with access to a smartphone can take part in video conferencing.

You may have to take the time to walk the older generation through the download and setup process. But once it's done, they can now use this function to video chat with other friends and family. Most older adults may have some difficulty with technology. Having patience and being prepared to offer them a tutorial will go a long way in showing them how much you care.

3. Visit the Family at Home at a Later Date

Depending on your faith, funerals and end of life rituals usually involve having family and friends attend a gathering or memorial service to pay their respects and say their goodbyes. During quarantine for COVID-19, it may not always be possible to hold gatherings of large groups, even for funerals and burials.

You might consider scheduling a time with the family for you to visit them in their home to pay your final respects in the future. If you are feeling any symptoms of illness, you may want to consider postponing your visit for a later time, too.

4. Create an Online Memorial Page

Practicing social distancing and avoiding close contact with others until the pandemic eases is the responsible thing to do. You can do your part while still paying your respects by creating an online memorial page dedicated to your loved one who has died. 

You may want to discuss with the family if the page should be made public, or if it should be accessible to only close family and friends. When deciding who should have access, consider going over a "guest list" with the family to make sure no one is omitted from participating. Being careful to include everyone close to the deceased should help in avoiding any hurt feelings later on when everyone is able to reunite again.

5. Send a Gift

Sending sympathy gifts to offer condolences is appropriate at any time, especially when faced with social distancing or other similar situations. If you’re unable to leave your home to visit the family, you can send a bouquet of fresh flowers days or weeks after the notice of death. A simple message expressing your condolences will let them know you are thinking of them and are acknowledging the death of their loved one. 

When deciding whether to send flowers, consider the type of flowers and the message you'll include. Many people may not want to receive flowers that remind them of a funeral home or death. Consider sending seasonal flowers that aren't associated with death and dying. A potted plant that they can later hang in their patio or replant in their garden also makes a lovely gift that will remind them of their loved one for months to come. 

While flowers are customary to send to the family, there are also many other thoughtful gifts that you can send to convey your regret for their loss. Various online retailers offer sympathy gifts that can be delivered to your loved one's home. Some sympathy gift ideas include:

  • Amazing Grace music box
  • Memorial wind chime
  • Subscription to a meal delivery service
  • Piece of art 
  • Gift basket with fresh fruit and other foods
  • Scented candle
  • Commemorative piece of jewelry
  • Bird feeder
  • Engraved plaque
  • Small birdbath or water fountain

6. Sign the Online Guestbook

A digital memorial or online guestbook provides an opportunity for you to send sympathy messages to the family and share your memories of your loved one with others. It also serves as a way to honor the memory of your loved one's life and accomplishments.

A guestbook online has the option to be available indefinitely for others to memorialize their thoughts and messages of love and condolences. When signing the digital guestbook, consider leaving a well-thought-out message that is both appropriate and tasteful - keeping in line with the tone of the deceased’s personality and social standing when they were still alive.   

7. Light a Candle

During a national or international crisis, sometimes it can be impossible to leave for anything other than "essential" travel. You can still honor the life of your deceased loved one from inside the confines of your home by lighting a memorial candle and setting aside some quiet time for prayer and reflection.

Consider setting up a special altar with a photograph of your loved one, some flowers, and a special prayer candle dedicated in their honor. This can be your go-to shrine where you can sit and talk to your loved one, and a peaceful place for solitude when you need some alone time to process your grief.

8. Send a Card

As long as the post office is still open for business, you can send your loved ones a sympathy card in the mail. If you are stuck at home, you can make a DIY card using the supplies you have on hand.

Start by looking through any old cards that you may have received from others, and any new ones that you may have purchased and stored away for a rainy day. You can recycle these cards by cutting and pasting to make a new one that fits the occasion.

If you have children, now may be a good time to raid their construction paper supply. Don't feel obligated to explain your homemade card. When you are in quarantine, it's understandable that you’re working with what you have on hand. The message conveyed in your words of sympathy is what's important.

9. Make a Donation

You can always choose a favorite charity or one that was close to the heart of your loved one that passed away, and donate in their honor. The donation amount should take into consideration your budget and ability to give, not the financial or social standing of the person who passed away.

Unless you can afford to give without causing you any financial strain, use your best judgment in deciding the amount to give, not the family’s pressure to give more than you can afford. 

You can opt for a one-time gift, or consider setting up legacy gifting where you give a certain amount at predetermined times of the year. When you donate in someone’s name, you won’t be listed as the donor. The person whose life you are honoring will be the name used when referencing your donation. 

10. Read Scripture or Religious Books

Another way of paying your respects while quarantined is to bring out those books on scripture that you’ve been meaning to read and never have. You can pledge to read the Bible from cover to cover, memorize passages in the Quran, or learn to recite the Buddhist precepts for righteous living. 

These are examples of the many ways that you can use your free time in a way that not only honors your loved one's memory, but that allows you to grow in your spirituality. You can also consider taking this time to teach your children or younger members of your family about faith-based traditions and rituals passed down from generation to generation.

11. Have an Online Family Funeral

One way of having a funeral without actually having one is to schedule a time for your family to host a group video chat so that you can have a private viewing and memorial service in the privacy of your homes.

You can enlist the help of your funeral director in video conferencing the part of the services that would normally be held in person such as the viewing, eulogy and prayer session led by your religious leader. Family can then each take turns in saying a few words of remembrance and offering virtual hugs and condolences.  

12. Stitch a Quilt

A beautiful way to honor someone you love and have lost is to gather favorite pieces of their clothing and sewing them into a memorial quilt to give as a gift to the spouse or family. The blanket will offer comfort and protection from the cold on those days when a little extra support is needed in the grieving process.

It's best to use unlaundered old favorites that still hold the scent of your loved one. Much like a child's security blanket, this one will provide a special closeness to the departed that will surely bring comfort to the recipient. 

Paying Respect No Matter The Circumstances

Facing unchartered territory when it comes to navigating through the rules of social distancing can be very difficult. Global crises can change the way we live, work, and interact with one another.

Fortunately we still have options when it comes to dealing with the death of a loved one, and the time frames in which we choose to celebrate and honor their lives. These uncertain times will pass, and then we can revisit how we choose to memorialize their passing. 

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