While the words “virtual” and “funeral” might not seem like they belong together, this is a term that’s only becoming more common nowadays.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What is a Virtual Funeral?
- Tips and Considerations for Planning a Virtual Funeral
- Tips for Attending a Virtual Funeral
Most importantly, it asks an important question: how do we honor our deceased loved ones even if we can’t be there physically?
It turns out humans go to great lengths to ensure their loved one’s legacies are treated with respect, kindness, and the support of an entire community. A virtual funeral is any funeral or memorial service that is streamed online, usually live over the internet. Because these types of events are very new, here are 20 tips for planning (and attending) a virtual funeral.
What is a Virtual Funeral?
Since this is such a new concept, there isn’t a clear definition. In general, a virtual funeral is exactly what it sounds like. The family takes steps to livestream a funeral to other people who aren’t able to attend in-person.
Why have a virtual funeral? There are a few reasons:
- Regulations: Due to travel regulations, it’s impossible to have an in-person event for a large group of people.
- Long-distance travel: It’s not always possible for family members to travel long-distances (or even shorter distances) to be in the physical location of the funeral.
- Postponing the event: Sometimes, a larger funeral isn’t possible at the moment, but the family still wishes to have a service together. A virtual funeral is a way to have a smaller, digital funeral prior to the real thing.
Technology has come a long way over the years. It’s possible to keep in touch with anyone in just a few clicks. While it might not be the ideal situation, virtual funerals bridge gaps all over the world. We already use online memorials, so this seems like another natural step.
Tips and Considerations for Planning a Virtual Funeral
If you’re planning a virtual funeral for a loved one, there are a few things to know. Primarily, this isn’t that different from planning a traditional funeral. A lot of the same challenges still apply, so here are the best tips.
1. Use professionals or do it yourself
When planning a virtual funeral, you'll have three options to help you with planning: a funeral director, an online service that specializes in planning virtual funerals, or doing it yourself. We'll break down your options below.
Funeral director or funeral home
If you're planning an in-person funeral, you might notice that some funeral directors have an option to set up a live stream of the in-person visitation or service. The live stream might be included in the price of the funeral or incur an additional fee, depending on the funeral home.
Generally speaking, a basic package will include a camera set near the back of the room, so virtual guests can see attendees and the deceased and listen to readings or speakers. Each funeral home will offer a different package, ranging from a basic package to more detailed plans. You'll need to ask your funeral director if they offer features like recordings, digital slideshows, tech support for guests, and virtual rehearsals.
Online service specializing in virtual funeral planning
Virtual funeral planning services help if you're looking to plan virtual-only or hybrid (virtual and in-person) funerals. Most of these services go beyond a funeral home's capabilities to help you plan, facilitate, and wrap up the entire virtual event. Plus, they'll provide tech support before and during the funeral to make for a smoother experience.
You'll find more custom features like digital invitation creation, virtual reception rooms, capacity for larger virtual audiences (up to 1,000 guests, in some cases), recordings, custom digital slideshows, and rehearsals, among others.
Virtual funeral planning services usually cost between $1,000-$3,000, but can depend on the event's duration, number of guests, and day of the week.
Pro tip: Cake reviewed several digital memorial and funeral planning services, and GatheringUs made our list for the best virtual funeral planning service. GatheringUs offers planning, facilitation, and a complete custom virtual funeral experience.
Do it yourself
Going the DIY route will mean you'll plan the event from beginning to end, including setting up the guest list, putting together all technical aspects, providing live support for virtual guests, and wrapping up the service. But first, you'll need to check with your funeral home before you start planning—they might not allow you to plan this part yourself, especially if they already offer virtual funerals a paid service.
You won't pay a premium for a planner, but keep in mind that you might need to spend money on equipment, professional-grade video conferencing or live stream software, and digital invitations.
If you're having trouble deciding which route to take, consider how much time you have and your event-planning and technical expertise. If you're already planning an in-person funeral, feeling overwhelmed, aren't very tech-savvy, have a sizeable virtual guest list, or can afford it, a using a specialized virtual funeral service or your funeral director might be your best choice.
But suppose you need assistance from start to finish, facilitated interaction between virtual guests, a custom experience, and a smoother technical experience for guests. Then, a virtual funeral service might be the way to go.
On the other hand, if you have experience planning virtual events, the time to set up the proper equipment, and are feeling budget-conscious, it may be worth going the do-it-yourself route. If that's the case, our virtual funeral planning tips numbered 2-13 should get you started in the right direction.
2. Consider your guest list
Similar to an in-person funeral, you’ll want to have a list of attendees. If it’s virtual, why limit the guest list at all? The main reason is that the more people you have tuning in, the greater the likelihood of technical issues.
While you should feel empowered to invite as few or as many people as you need, create an invite list to ensure the invite link doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
3. Research what equipment you need
Your phone likely is a powerful tool for one-on-one video calls, but can it handle a larger production? In most cases, it’s helpful to recruit better equipment. You might need things like:
- A high-quality camera
- Microphone for any speakers
Most funeral homes already have some of these things on-hand, but you could also recruit the assistance of a professional photographer or videographer if you’re looking for a professional setup. If cost and time are the biggest concern, feel free to stream the funeral from your smartphone or tablet.
4. Plan the funeral service
Like with a traditional funeral, you should still plan the events. Most funerals have a speaker, a religious component, and an opportunity for guests to speak. All of this is still possible in a virtual funeral, though you might need to be a bit more creative.
For instance, if you’re planning to allow guests to speak, will they appear on their own camera or will they record a message in advance? Have these questions answered before you begin streaming.
5. Record the funeral
A livestream is a great tool, but it does have limitations. The biggest is that it only happens once, and it’s not possible for guests to tune in at a later time. For those who have time zone differences or conflicts, they might still wish to watch the funeral service on their own time.
Recording the funeral is a great way to make this possible. Most online video call tools already allow recording, but there are also third-party applications. You could also record on a separate device.
6. Create virtual invites
A virtual funeral calls for virtual invites. While paper invites are a lovely memento, they’re not always practical when it comes to a virtual event.
A digital invitation makes it simple to link to the livestream, and you can even add an option for guests to RSVP online. These tools are free and simple to use for your virtual invitations:
7. Practice in advance
Think of your digital funeral as a type of production. Like any live event, you need to practice in advance. This doesn’t mean you read through every section and have the speakers give their eulogies in advance.
However, taking a bit of time to run through who does what and in what order gives everyone peace of mind.
8. Use a simple livestream tool
As we mentioned before, we’re lucky to live in a time with so much choice when it comes to technology. There’s a never-ending list of tools and services that make live streaming a breeze, even at a difficult time like this. Some options are:
- Facebook Live - Facebook is a tool most people are already familiar with, and it has an easy live feature that allows you to host events live.
- YouTube Live - YouTube has a similar feature to Facebook. Once you go live, anyone with your link can view your stream. You can also have up to 10 people broadcast with you.
- Skype - Skype is a well-known video calling tool, and you can host multiple people in the same stream.
- Zoom - Zoom has an entire resource section on how to host events virtually, and this is a customizable tool. You can read our guide on how to plan a Zoom funeral for more.
- Facetime - If you only have a few people calling into your virtual funeral, Facetime is a great option.
9. Appoint someone to be in charge
Having a single person in charge of tech support and IT troubles is the best way to avoid confusion. This could be a tech-savvy member of your family, or it could also be someone from the funeral home. Check with your funeral home to see what they recommend.
10. Send instructions in advance
Because not everyone has the same comfort level with technology, send clear instructions in advance.
This could be included with your virtual invitation, and it depends on the specific video or live streaming software you choose. Instructions should have specific steps for logging into the livestream, participating, and what’s expected of guests.
11. Create visuals
Virtual funerals are the perfect time to use visuals. Including photos of the deceased, slideshows, or even music is a great way to engage guests with the service.
Most video streaming services allow for this easily, typically by sharing a screen. Invite guests to share their own visuals or simply prepare your own.
12. Set visitation hours
Visitation is often one of the most important parts of the funeral process. This is a time for the family to come together one-on-one.
Setting aside virtual visitation hours either before or after the funeral is a great way to stay connected in a time of crisis. This could be done through a virtual chat, one-on-one condolence messages, or even a virtual “conference” with immediate family members.
13. Thank attendees
Finally, be sure to thank all attendees for joining you for your virtual funeral. Let them know that their presence, even digitally, meant a lot to you. If you plan to hold an in-person funeral or memorial service at a later date, promise to keep them updated.
Tips for Attending a Virtual Funeral
Since attending a virtual funeral isn’t something people do every day, you might be wondering the best way to prepare. These tips ensure you’re being respectful and offering condolences in the most supportive way possible.
14. Send a respectful email or message
As soon as you hear about the passing, send a respectful condolence email or message. This is considered proper etiquette, and it lets the bereaved family know you’re thinking of them.
Even if you’re unable to attend the virtual funeral, offering sympathy is the respectful thing to do.
15. RSVP if possible
Many online events, including virtual funerals, ask guests to RSVP or confirm they’re attending. This is to help the funeral planner prepare any tech tools necessary, and it’s also a sign of respect for the family.
Always RSVP as soon as possible, and follow all the instructions for attending the digital funeral.
16. Dress appropriately
While you don’t need to dress in exclusively formal wear for a virtual funeral, this is one of the ways to show support to the family. You wouldn’t arrive at an in-person funeral wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and the same is true for virtual funerals.
Unless your webcam is turned off the entire time, wear nice clothes, preferably in a neutral color. While you don’t need to wear all black, this step goes a long way to making a good impression.
17. Consider your background
If your video is enabled during the service, be aware of your background. This is especially the case if you’re speaking to everyone. If possible, choose a solid background.
However, make sure whatever background location you choose is clean and doesn’t create a distraction.
18. Participate when appropriate
Most virtual funerals have some way to interact with the service. Whether they request people to speak about the deceased or there’s a text-based chatroom, participate when it feels right. When you do participate, keep it short and sweet.
Pay attention at the beginning of the virtual service for information on when you should speak up or contribute to the chat. There might also be one-on-one time available afterward with the bereaved family.
19. Arrive online early
Don’t wait until the last minute to open the link for the virtual funeral. This is an opportunity to get a feel for the way the service will run. In addition, this is when there’s a lot of engagement in any chat features.
Arriving early helps the funeral planner arrange the technical tools efficiently. This is especially true if you’ll be participating via video. You might need to test your microphone or camera, so leave time for this.
20. Be patient
Like with anything involving technology, you need to be patient. Virtual funerals are incredibly new. Things sometimes happen that are out of the family’s control. Your wifi signal might glitch, there might be a lag, or your speech could be cut-off.
Remember this is a time for mourning and grief. Be there for the family without worrying about the technical experience. Arrive with your patience and don’t fret if things don’t go according to plan.
21. Send a sympathy gift
Finally, consider sending a sympathy gift. Even if you’re not able to attend in person, there are still many ways to offer kind gestures to the family virtually. Here are some ideas:
- Set up a memorial donation in the family’s honor
- Send flowers to the funeral home or the family’s home
- Email a digital food delivery gift card
- Arrange something with someone who lives nearby
Honor a Loved One Virtually
There are no strict rules for how to honor a loved one after they die. Virtual funerals are a digital solution to many of today’s biggest challenges around funerals and travel arrangements. Whether you’re planning a virtual funeral for a loved one or you’re attending one soon, now you know what to expect from the experience.
While this is a new concept, virtual funerals are bound to become more common in the next few months and years. As long as we come together in times of need, there are no limits to hour four our legacy goes.