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Creating An Online Memorial Service


Online Memorials — Part 1, Original Photo by Kerri Shaver

Let’s be honest for a moment. Having an online memorial service for someone you love just isn’t as good as having heartfelt support in-person. That ability to hug and feel the warmth of another is hard to replace. Nevertheless, online memorial services still have their unique benefits and ability to support those we love as they go through hardship, grief, and loss.

The foundation of a good online memorial is creating and sending out a proper invitation. I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way. Believe it or not, taking just a little time to prepare an agenda and answer some key questions will get you most of the way there. 

First, let’s talk about the video conferencing software that you’re using. Whether you’re using Zoom, FreeConferenceCall.com, Skype, or Google Meet, they all basically work the same and have similar features. For the next two articles, I’ll be referring to these as Zoom-Or-Other-Video-Platforms; ZOOVPs as I like to call them.

Zoom-Or-Other-Video-Platform

It’s impossible to address everything in one article. Ask me your questions in the comment section below. Also, I have a list of PDF downloadable resources around this on my website. Let’s get started.


Start With Who

When starting an online memorial, always start with who. Sorry Simon. I just did my first ever online Memorial and I have to say it went pretty good. This was a memorial for a friend of mine and mentor Dr. Wallace Sife. He was the founder of the APLB,  and in most aspects the father of the pet loss community. 

He recently died and with this whole shelter in place order we weren’t able to come together in person to have a memorial. To be fair, even without this pandemic we wouldn’t have been able to get together so I ended up suggesting that we all come together for a ZOOVP remembrance ceremony. This was a great way to come together as an organization, to remember Wally, to share our stories, and to honor his legacy.

This whole shelter in place order means that we weren’t able to come together in person to have a memorial. To be fair, even without this pandemic we wouldn’t have been able to get together so I ended up suggesting that we all come together for a ZOOVP remembrance ceremony. This was a great way to come together as an organization, to remember Wally, to share our stories, and to honor his legacy.

For your memorial, for what brought you here today, think for a moment about the person for whom you’re wanting everyone to gather. Answer these questions to get a better idea of what to include in your memorial planning:

  • Who were they? 
  • What kind of service, remembrance, or celebration would they want? 
  • Would they want people to share memories at their memorial?
  • Do they have favorite things? If so, what are they and how could you incorporate them in a ZOOVP meeting?

Find an Officiant and a Host

If you are the person who has had a loss, strongly consider asking for help planning and executing the service. It’s so much less of a burden to have to bear in addition to grief.

Designate a person who is NOT a member of the family to be the host of the meeting. The family has their hands full just being there and most likely will not have the wherewithal to effectively manage an online meeting with dozens of people.  

Just as in a real ceremony, you need someone to lead the meeting. Do you have an Officiant in mind, like a pastor, minister, spiritual leader, or someone to officiate the meeting? Call them and make sure they’re willing to officiate an online memorial service for you. If you’re having trouble finding one, can’t afford one, or any other reason, just choose a person to lead the meeting. It’s a good thing you’ll have an agenda to go by!

The Officiant doesn’t necessarily have to be proficient with a ZOOVP in any way to lead the meeting. In fact, it can be easier on the Officiator to have that responsibility given to someone else. In that case, you’ll need a ZOOVP administrator, or Host. This could be the Officiant or your cousin Jeremiah who is a computer wiz and has the uber-pro version of ZOOVP. At any rate, find someone who is technically proficient and ideally who has hosted or been a part of a ZOOVP meeting before. For a larger group size you’ll probably want additional help to manage participants; recruit your niece Julina who already knows more about computers than you ever will. 

For the rest of this article and the following article, I’ll refer to the meeting leader as the Officiant and the ZOOVP administrator(s) as the Host(s). 

Construct the Invitation

Like I said earlier, the invitation is the most important piece. Send out a proper invitation. Include all the information that a guest could need to know in one place to make it easy. We’re going to talk about several components of the invitation:

  • Who’s Attending
  • Start Time / End Time
  • Ceremony Content
  • Live Music
  • Participation
  • Naming the Ceremony

I have a downloadable template and example here. Include Time, Meeting Link, and Instructions for how to join the meeting AND a contact phone number for troubleshooting Great Aunt Evelyn calling into a Zoom meeting for the first time. 

Online Memorial Invitation Example

Who’s Attending?
Some questions to answer when planning your meeting:

  • Who do I want to attend? 
  • Where do they live? What timezone are they in?
  • What are their schedules like? This will help you with scheduling the start/end time.
  • When do you want to have the memorial? Morning / Afternoon / Evening?
  • Do they have ZOOVP technology? If not, you’ll have to provide a call-in number. I don’t know of a single person who doesn’t have access to a telephone. 

Start Time
For the start time, pick the time you want to start, then schedule the meeting 30 minutes earlier to allow for people to trickle in. Plan for it ahead of time. So if you want to start at 3:30pm EST, schedule it to start at 3:15pm EST. Speaking of EST/PST/CET/ECT, think about who is attending and where they live. The meeting I just scheduled was at 5pm PST in San Francisco, which was 8pm in New York, and 10am in Australia. We had some guests who had to hop off early because they were going to work and others who couldn’t attend at all. Just something to keep in mind. 

End Time
For duration, think about what you’re going to be doing in the ceremony and how many people you plan to invite. If you’re having an open call for memories with 1000 participants, you could be there a while. An hour and a half is a healthy time for a memorial ceremony. For anything longer than that you’ll need to consider having an intermission in the program to give people the chance to get up, walk around, talk freely in the chat room, and go pee. 

Ceremony Content
The content of the ceremony is entirely subjective and based on the wishes of the individual and on personal, cultural, and religious preferences. I’m not going to say too much on this here, suffice it to say, here is the general flow of a ceremony:

  • Opening Remarks: Why We Are Gathered
  • About the Deceased: Honoring and Remembering
  • Music: Hymns, Songs, Readings, Poetry, Prayers
  • Guests Sharing: Photos, Memories from Friends and Family
  • Ending Thoughts: Gratitude, Blessings

Live Music
Most funeral traditions involve music of some sort. If you want to include music in your memorial, know ahead of time who is going to play that music. Make sure that they’re available on the date. Tiny deet, huge impact. Here are some questions to ask yourself / them:

  • Do they have a good microphone? How are they going to record themselves? A smartphone using a ZOOVP will have a good enough microphone to either hold or prop up. On a piano, a phone’s going to vibrate, so lay it on its side on the music rack so you can still see participants and they can see you.
  • Are they going to sing or play guitar? Make sure it’s going to sound okay.
  • What was their favorite song / music type? 

Participation
Part of the invitation is asking the guests to bring something to show or prepare something to say. With funerals and public morning rituals, it’s the act of participation from the community itself that brings comfort to the family. By the way, entire families or an entire household can participate from in front of the same webcam. I would encourage that when appropriate. Pro Tip #1: Ask your guests to come prepared to share. It will greatly cut down on wait time and make the whole meeting run smoother. 

Name the Ceremony
Finally, find a name for the ceremony. This is just a suggestion, but something that can add just a little personality to the event. For my most recent invitation, I nicknamed our ZOOVP room the “Eidle Meister” room after Dr. Sife’s first dog. That’s something that he would have liked. The idea is to personalize the meeting. This seemingly small activity can also help with grief.

Here’s A Sample Meeting Invite:

[Meeting Room Name] Opens
3:00pm

Services Start
3:15pm
(It doesn’t really start until 3:30pm, shhhh)

Music (optional)

Intermission (optional)
10-Minutes

Participation (optional)
Share a memory, photo, or prepare something to say. 

Services End
4:30pm

Gathering Afterwards
4:30pm – Whenever

Other Decisions

ZOOVP Limitations
Be aware of ZOOVPs limitations. For instance, for all basic accounts (basic means you haven’t paid for it), Zoom has a maximum time of 40 minutes and 100 participants. If that time is exceeded, the meeting is automatically ended and everyone is kicked out. You can always start another meeting right away, but that’s a giant disruption. Another option is FreeConferenceCall.com which allows up to 1000 participants and 6 hours free. 

Do you want to record the ceremony?
One of the advantages of having an online memorial service is the ability to record and keep the ceremony. For many people, being able to go back and listen to the stories and everything that was said is really helpful. Plus you can watch it whenever you like.

Meeting Etiquette Dress Code
What makes Zoom meetings different is that people can show up in all kinds of dress. If proper or specific attire is important to you, you need to mention it in the invite. No apology or explanation necessary; attending and streaming the event from the couch dressed from the waist up doesn’t convey the same message of love and respect. 

You can say something like: 

  • Church / Professional / Casual / Medieval attire is requested. 
  • This memorial ceremony is going to be recorded, so please dress accordingly.
  • Please honor us by getting dressed.

I’m creating a shorter version of this one specifically for participants that I’m making available. It will include an etiquette guide and general tips for an online memorial. See the notes at the bottom.

Send it out ASAP 
Send the invitation out as soon as you possibly can. Remember, you’re sending it to people you want to attend, so give them as much time as possible. On a side note, I’ve always hated how asap is autocorrected to ASAP; ASAP seems so harsh and unnecessary. But I digress.

Meeting Security
Have a password to your meeting. You do NOT want random people jumping into your meeting and saying God-knows-what and wearing Lucifer-probably-also-knows (I mean let’s be honest, he’s a pretty old & smart dude). There have been many cases of what’s being called Zoom Hijacking. Be careful. 

Information & Activity
Make sure to get everyone’s information! Here’s the info you definitely need:

  • Email Address – This is what you’ll use for the ZOOVP.
  • Phone Number – For those without video and technical issues.
  • Mailing Address – To send thank you notes and invitations to the in-person memorial later.

Mailed Invitation
Even though it’s online, consider sending out a physical invitation to remind people. Have all the information included in the envelope for them so they don’t have any excuses for why they waited until the last minute until frantically searching for and not finding the invitation URL.

ZOOVP Man – Saves the Day!!

You can be a ZOOVP Superhero too!!

The foundation of a good online memorial is creating and sending out a proper invitation. Believe it or not, but taking just a little time to prepare an agenda and answer some key questions will get you most of the way there. It makes the meeting flow so much better when we arrive prepared. 

In my next article I’ll present the exciting conclusion; in Part 2 to learn how to manage the meeting in real time and deal with problems as they come up. 

If you’d like a downloadable PDF checklist and flowchart, please visit my website at www.kevinringstaff.com to learn more. Checkout my YouTube video on this article here.

ZOOVP Man Out!

PDF Checklist: (Download our PDF checklist)
Invitation Example: (Download our Invitation Example)
Background Example: (Download our Invitation Background Example)
ZOOVP Technical Guide: (Download our Technical ZOOVP Guide)
Memorial Etiquette Guide: (Download our Memorial Etiquette Guide)

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