Planning a funeral under the best of circumstances is hard work. If you’re unable to plan an in-person funeral for your family, it might start to feel like an impossible task altogether. Nowadays, virtual funerals are more common than ever. A virtual funeral is when either a portion or all guests “attend” the funeral service virtually through a video call, livestream, or another digital tool.
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One of the most common platforms for hosting virtual funerals is Zoom. Zoom is a video call platform that’s common in workplaces, schools, and now even funerals. The advantage of Zoom over other types of digital streaming services is that multiple people can join the same virtual video and voice call, creating a cohesive sense of community. In addition, this is a platform most people are already familiar with or use.
If you’re in the difficult situation of needing to plan a funeral that’s virtual and through Zoom, we’ve got you covered. Though this is a relatively new concept, we put together a guide to planning and attending Zoom funerals.
Planning a Funeral on Zoom
As you might expect, planning a funeral on Zoom isn’t too different from planning a funeral in general. You’ll need to cover the basic steps like finding the right funeral home or service, inviting guests, and planning the service. However, as you’ll quickly realize, there are some extra things to consider during this process to keep things running smoothly.
Start with a funeral home or service
To begin, shop around for a funeral home or a virtual funeral planning service for your loved one if you don’t have one already. Most modern funeral homes are familiar with the concept of virtual funerals, and they might be equipped with tech tools you can use to simplify the important day. However, the tools may be limited to helping you set up a simple live stream with a link to the event and the funeral home may charge for a virtual funeral service.
A virtual funeral planning service, like GatheringUs, goes beyond a funeral home's capabilities to help you plan. These services provide beginning-to-end event planning, tech support, recording, invitations, thank-you notes, and day-of-funeral coordination. And, they allow you to choose between a virtual-only or hybrid (virtual and in-person) funeral. These services typically cost around $1,000-$3,000, depending on the duration of the event, day of the week, and the number of guests.
Choose a location for your funeral
Because you’re hosting your loved one’s funeral on Zoom, you’ll need to be careful about where you host the event. Mainly, you need to ensure the venue has the following:
- Strong wifi connection
- Quality lighting
- Technical hookups (outlets, extension cords, etc.)
This might limit the places you can choose from. For example, many people choose to have their service in a church, but this might not have the right technical abilities needed for a Zoom funeral. In most cases, the funeral home or a family member’s house is the best option.
Plan your virtual service
Like any funeral, you’ll still need to plan the order of the service. Even though this is a virtual event, it still likely follows the same structure as an in-person funeral. Create a clear itinerary with the order of service. You might choose to have:
- Words of welcome
- Prayer or scripture reading
- Musical selections
- Speeches and tributes
- Private visitation
Remember that all of these events need to be compatible with Zoom. If you plan to have guests speak, ensure they know what to expect and that they have a webcam and microphone. In addition, prepare any visuals and music in advance so they’re easy to pair with Zoom.
It might help to have a single person as the officiant. This could be a religious leader, family member, or someone from your funeral home. Make sure the officiant knows how their schedule integrates with Zoom.
Choosing your Zoom plan
Zoom has both free and paid plans, so you only have to pay for what you need. The type of plan you choose depends on the type of service as well as the number of guests attending.
With a free plan, you can have a meeting of up to 40 minutes with three or more participants. If you expect you’ll need more than that, you can choose one of the following options:
- Pro: Meetings of up to 100 participants with unlimited time
- Webinar: Plans ranging from 100 to 10,000 view-only attendees with chat features and live streaming
- Business: Customized URL, dashboard, emails, and more (likely through a funeral home)
These plans are paid for through a monthly subscription. Depending on the type of plan you need, Zoom offers an affordable option for including everyone in your virtual service.
How to invite guests
You’ll need to invite your guests to the Zoom funeral a little bit differently than you would a traditional funeral. Since this is a digital funeral, it’s best to send digital invitations. On Zoom, you can create a meeting time for your event. Zoom creates a specific link for this meeting, and this is the link you’ll need to send to guests.
Whether you choose to have a specific webpage with a link to the funeral service or to include the link itself in your invites is up to you. There are a number of free digital invitation platforms like Evites or Paperless Post to choose from.
Add visuals and extras
One of the benefits of a virtual funeral is being able to use visuals and extras to make the experience more engaging and interactive for guests. You have a lot of options for playing funeral songs, sharing a slideshow of images, and incorporating other visual elements.
Consider what makes sense for your loved one’s funeral service. From there, use Zoom’s audio and video resource library to master the technical elements. Be sure to practice before the actual service to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Schedule one-on-one meeting times
Another benefit of Zoom is how simple it is to schedule one-on-one meetings with family members either before or after the service. This takes the place of visitation, which isn’t always possible for virtual funerals that take place in a large digital chatroom.
To get those one-on-one moments, allow guests to schedule time slots for smaller meetings. This is an opportunity for people to say kind words in person without worrying about the tech difficulties of an entire group. Set aside a few hours on the day of the service or on a separate day, and ask guests if they’d like to participate in visitation hours with the immediate family or close friends of the deceased.
Assist your guests
Finally, make sure you take some time to familiarize your guests with Zoom so they make the most of the service. Not all guests are tech-savvy, and some might not have the same devices. Cut down on confusion with these tips:
- Instructions: Create simple instructions for joining the Zoom meeting for your guests. This should include proper links and how to make sure their audio and video functions properly. There are a number of YouTube videos walking through this.
- Tech tools: What devices do guests need? If they’re not turning on audio or video, they likely just need a smartphone, computer, or tablet. Share a link to the Zoom app to help people find it quickly.
- Speakers: If you’ll have people speaking at the virtual service, make sure they know how to test their microphone and camera.
Like with all things technology, pack your patience. Designate a single person, preferably someone within your funeral home’s team, to handle and manage the Zoom account. They might have many of these how-to resources already available, simplifying the process.
Finally, make sure you run through everything in advance. Technical problems happen and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. You can avoid these by being prepared and practicing.
Attending a Funeral on Zoom
If you’re invited to a funeral on Zoom, it’s natural to have some questions and concerns. This is especially true if you’re unfamiliar with the Zoom platform. Luckily, it’s easy to get the hang of this virtual meeting tool so you can be there for the bereaved family in their time of need.
What tech tools do I need?
If you’re a guest at a virtual funeral, you don’t need any fancy technology to join the service. All you need to get started is your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Download the Zoom app on your smartphone or tablet if this is the device you plan to use.
However, if you’re speaking at the service virtually, you’ll need to take some extra steps. Most modern devices have a camera and microphone connected already, but you could add your own to improve the quality. Otherwise, be sure to test all of these integrations in advance to keep things running smoothly.
Participating in the virtual service
As mentioned above, if you’re planning to participate in the virtual service, you should do some preparation. With a Zoom funeral, there are a few ways you can participate. You might be asked to say a few words on camera in front of other virtual guests, or you might type your message into a virtual chatbox.
Either way, prepare a few kind words about the deceased. Review short eulogy examples for some inspiration. Because you don’t want to take away time from the family’s service, keep things short and sweet. Even if you’re not a speaker, it’s considered polite to write a thoughtful message in the chat feature if that’s available.
Zoom funeral dress code
Like with an in-person funeral, you’ll want to consider your dress code even when you’re connecting digitally. If your camera is enabled, dress as you would for a traditional funeral.
Your attire won’t be as strict as if you were attending in-person, but it’s a sign of respect to wear neutral colors that aren’t a distraction. Though you might be sitting at home, avoid wearing loungewear, athletic clothes, or other things you might typically wear around the house.
Sympathy and condolences online
Even though the funeral is online, you can still use the Zoom funeral as a chance to offer sympathy and condolences. Remember that this isn’t a chance to catch up with other guests. It’s an opportunity to support the family no matter where you are.
It’s proper funeral etiquette to pay your respects to the bereaved family. Make sure you send a sympathy message, either through email, social media, or a physical card. From there, you might also choose to send flowers to the family’s home, the funeral home, or to make a donation in the deceased person’s honor.
Finally, the most important way to pay your respects is to simply be present. A virtual funeral usually isn’t the family’s first choice. There are a number of reasons the family resorted to Zoom instead of an in-person service, so the least you can do is be there for the virtual event as a sign of respect and support.
The New Era of Virtual Funerals
While virtual funerals might be new, they’re sure to gain in popularity over the next few months and years. Zoom is an easy platform that brings family members, loved ones, and supporters from around the world together regardless of physical distance. While a virtual call isn’t a substitute for in-person connection, it’s an effective, easy option for those who can’t be together in the moment.
Are you hosting or attending a virtual funeral on Zoom? If so, pay close attention to the guide above. These tools have been popular with workplaces, schools, and friend groups for years. It’s about time they gain a new purpose to help bereaved families feel closer to loved ones in a time of crisis.