Considering a Zoom Memorial?

Thousands of Americans never dreamed they’d have to change how they mourn. Here’s some advice and, perhaps, solace based on my own pandemic-driven experience.

The pandemic is requiring more and more of us to grieve in isolation in order to stay safe this Covid-19 season. Yet often we see news stories of families and communities defying social-distancing recommendations in times of loss. The images convey how powerful and essential the need is to come together to mourn a loved-one’s passing. For some communities it is also elemental to their traditions, religious customs, and sense of identity.

When it became clear my mother would pass during the pandemic, I assumed we’d put off her memorial until we could gather together in person. When she died at the beginning of May, my brother and I organized a remote gathering using the video conferencing platform Zoom to bring together family and friends as a stop-gap measure to mark her passing. The real memorial, I told myself, would happen in her loft in New York City surrounded by her art work. She was a painter. I would not give up that vision.

Funeral homes are now marketing virtual funeral services as part of what they offer, including casket viewing along with remote participation. Another trend is live-streaming memorials to share with a broader community.

Our Zoom effort was entirely home-grown. We found that in the days following our mother’s death, the need to gather grew strong. Soon I no longer resented the Zoom option. Instead, I was relieved to have it.

Since I’m hardly alone in these circumstances, I’ve cobbled together my observations and some tips and resources for anyone considering a Zoom memorial.

You may be feeling like your family member deserves a whole lot better. You may be feeling guilty or robbed. I’m writing to offer some advice and even some comfort. Ours was a positive experience. There were even unexpected advantages.

Advantages of a Zoom Memorial

A remote memorial can be more accessible than an in-person event for elders and others who find travel arduous or impossible. Zoom memorials allow family and friends to gather in a virtual space, allowing for the possibility of equal participation regardless of geography, health, disability, and finances. For video participation, attendees need a tablet or laptop computer with a camera connected to a broadband internet service. For attendees with hearing loss, Zoom gives the ability to add live closed captions and can provide a transcript after the memorial has ended.  Zoom can also provide screen reader support for someone who is blind, and shortcuts for an attendee who has problems using a regular keyboard (see, also, Six Tips for Zoom Accessibility ).  Calling in for an audio-only experience is also an option, rendering some form of participation available to those without video capability.
A remote memorial can bring...

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