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Remembrance in the Age of Covid: How to Create a Virtual Memorial Service

After Lily Berman’s father passed away last summer, she created a meaningful, virtual memorial service to honor his life and legacy. She has graciously offered these tips for anyone considering creating a virtual service for their own loved ones. Her experiences and advice are below, in her own words.

SOME CONTEXT

In the early morning of July 11, 2020, my dad passed away in my brother’s house. With the irreplaceable help of Hospice of Cincinnati, the dining room had been his bedroom for most of the five weeks he lived after his diagnosis. He was 73 years old.

After working in tech for years, I instinctively took on planning his virtual service. What follows are recommendations for anyone considering doing the same.

CONSIDER THE ARRIVAL EXPERIENCE

Especially in a virtual setting, some will arrive a few minutes early, while others may struggle with the technology and arrive a few minutes late. So, we intentionally began our program with a photo slideshow to welcome people whenever they joined. We displayed each of the 60 slides for five seconds with some beautiful piano music playing in the background. It played twice, from five minutes before to five minutes after the official start of the service.

CREATE AN INTENTIONAL AGENDA

I wanted my dad’s service to feel warm and personal, rather than formulaic. So, I collaborated with the Rabbi to create an agenda, including everyone who wanted to speak. I also added something special – a friend playing a Steely Dan song on saxophone that my dad loved.

I aimed to keep the service under an hour, knowing how my own attention can wane over the course of virtual meetings. I created a separate time for guests to share stories and condolences with us later in the day. That allowed guests the opportunity to speak, while also keeping the service itself contained.

HAVE A TECHNOLOGY HOST

I have been hosting virtual meetings as part of my work for years, including troubleshooting issues. At first, I was tempted to take on this role at my father’s service. Luckily, I very quickly came to my senses. Instead, I asked a close coworker to take on this role. Invisible to our guests, he played the slideshow and the accompanying music, ensuring it sounded good for everyone. On the Rabbi’s cue, he shared the prayers, so people could follow along. He did everything else needed from a tech perspective, including keeping everyone muted, answering tech questions, and more.

This allowed everyone, including me, to focus on mourning my sweet dad instead of fiddling with Zoom. Anyone who isn’t mourning and frequently uses virtual conferencing could be a good candidate for this role.

PROVIDE INSTRUCTIONS AND OPTIONS FOR CONNECTING

Guests will likely have varied proficiency in virtual conferencing tools like Zoom. Some may use these tools nearly daily, while others may be videoconferencing for the first time. To ensure everyone is able to connect, share detailed instructions in your invitation email. If you choose to record the service, as we did, let the audience know in your invitation.

IN CONCLUSION

Please know that if you plan a virtual service, it doesn’t have to be perfect. My dad’s wasn’t, even with all my careful thought and planning. It was, however, full of love and a gift I was proud to offer my family. I hope my experience is valuable to you. It’s beyond words, grieving during a global pandemic while distanced from our loved ones. If you are in this experience, my heart is with you, and you’re not alone.

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