I am so glad we decided to have an online virtual memorial gathering soon after my father’s death. It brought us together as siblings and gave us something to do during those first days and weeks after he died. It was difficult and it took a lot of work. It was distracting. After it was all over there was a let down and I felt my grief more deeply and in different ways than I did leading up to the memorial. But it gave us so many benefits — we shared our memories, created a beautiful 7-minute slide show, met with old friends and family far and wide, and we have a recording of the whole gathering that we can cherish. If we hadn’t done this at this time, I don’t think we would have done anything in the future when we can gather in person again. Or at least it would have been different, and perhaps more difficult. It is satisfying and comforting to look back on this gathering now, even though it had to be online.
The inspiration and model for this came from the “zoomeral” of my partner’s aunt. The first thing I did was tell my siblings about that experience and how beautiful and helpful it was. I called the organizer of that event to ask about the details – super helpful!! I had planning meetings on zoom with my siblings — this gave them an opportunity to get more comfortable with that platform.
Our event took place about 2 ½ weeks after my dad died. It was a bit of a scramble, but we didn’t want to wait too long and it was worth it. I think there is a lot of value in doing it soon to give you something to work toward, to express your feelings while they are still very fresh, to give others a chance to participate and come together, and to get past it so you can focus on other things and other ways of grieving.
We kept it short; it’s difficult to be on zoom for very long, and we wanted kids to be able to be there. Fewer transitions between speakers, photos and music means less potential for technical glitches. We had some prayers, about 5-10 minutes of music, a 7-minute slideshow with music, personal sharing from the children of the deceased for 15 minutes, and about 15 minutes of open sharing. An additional wonderful feature was having breakout rooms after the formal gathering for further discussion among friends and family.
We hired a zoom technical assistant to:
You also need an MC for the event. My recommendation is that it be someone close to the family, but not an immediate family member. The MC is the primary speaker who is the leader, welcomes everyone, sets the tone, states the purpose of the event, keeps things on track, invites others to speak, and closes the event. In our case, the MC was also the pastor who led the prayers at the beginning and end.
Other things we did:
Biggest lessons learned:
I hope this information helps anyone planning to do a virtual memorial.
Steven Birenbaum, How to Hold. Virtual Memorial Service, NYT 1-14-21
Debbie Waldman, How to Pay Your Respects During a Virtual Funeral, Wired, 3-17-21
There are no cue cards, there is no rule book.
I only have the bits and pieces of what I have
learned from other people’s stories,
from books or movies,
from a class.
I have to write my own story,
I have to figure this out for myself;
I have to design my own plan.
I have to walk this journey in my own shoes,
no one to guide me.
It’s like flexing a new muscle,
developing a new skill;
one I always knew I would have to learn,
one you can’t really prepare for,
something I knew lurked ahead but ...
Now I have jumped off this cliff.
I come from a very productive-oriented life:
With producing things there is a sense that, if you just do it right, it will work.
Put in the time, follow the directions, get the right tools, make it work;
use your problem solving skills.
With this grief, there is no …
It is different;
it is not a problem to be solved with my mind.
It takes time,
but another kind of time.
Time to just be, to feel.
I almost have to get sick to slow down and feel,
be with my memories.
This is a different kind of work;
one I am not as good at.
It feels weird, ungrounded, unhinged, new.
This is where I can rely on what I have heard,
what I have learned from others’ experiences:
This is normal.
I have to keep telling myself that.
It is ok to just sit.
In fact, it is necessary.