How to plan a remote funeral or memorial during the coronavirus pandemic

If someone you know has died from complications due to COVID-19, these resources may help you and your loved ones grieve.

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As of July, more Americans have died from COVID-19 than from WWI.

Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images

More than half a million people around the world have lost their lives to COVID-19, and the death toll is growing as the coronavirus continues surge across the US and the world. The nature of social distancing means patients are denied visitors in their final hours and families can't congregate in person at funerals and homes to bury their dead and mourn.

Enforced distance during a time of traditional togetherness can deny people the physical comfort of a hug, a shoulder to cry on and a sense of finality that's part of the grieving process when someone close has died. 

Online resources and tools are no replacement for a gathering of loved ones and friends, but they can help families organize online memorials, memory books and donations made in your loved one's memory. We present some resources to help plan a remote funeral or memorial and otherwise honor those who have died as a result of COVID-19. 

Remember that performing a physical act can sometimes help you regain some agency during a situation you can't otherwise control. Here are additional tips to help manage anxiety during the pandemic.


Consider planting flowers or trees in the yard or a planter box.

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Have a Zoom, Skype or YouTube funeral or memorial service now

The coronavirus restrictions prevent us from holding a large funeral in person to honor the memory of those who we've lost. If you're affiliated with a religious institution, reach out to see what kind of support your organization can supply in the short term -- for example, literature on grief, individual video chats with you and your family members or online prayer meetings.

Your family and friends can also hold a memorial service using Zoom (change these settings to prevent unwanted guests) or another video chat service like Skype broadcast, Google Meet or even a private YouTube channel. Sharing a eulogy or other prepared tribute, readings, poems and personal stories -- even discussing the hardship of being alone -- can provide a chance to mourn together in a virtual community.

You can also record the memorial service to play later or to share with others who couldn't attend online.

Uplifting scenes of coronavirus solidarity around the world

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Set up a vigil your community can see from the street

To honor the memory of the family member who has died, you might light large candles on your porch or windowsill and allow others to drive past and honk to offer support. Set up a large box on your driveway for those in your neighborhood to drop off letters, flowers or other items they may want to share as a sign of their support and grief -- at a distance from others. 

As you collect items, make sure to handle them cautiously, and wash your hands after touching them. If you yourself are in a high-risk group, ask for deliveries, physical mail and email instead. These gestures could mean a great deal to others who never got to say goodbye and who want to support you.

Ask your religious institution for advice

Many churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship remain closed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Even so, these communities have often remain active online and can still be used as a resource. If you're affiliated with a religious institution, reach out to see how they can provide relief during this time. 

For example, services and memorials are being live streamed over Zoom and Google Hangouts. One-on-one counseling sessions are often available. And in some cases where small, social gatherings are permitted, a clergy member may be willing to livestream a graveside service, for example, for close family members and friends who can't attend.

Ask your institution how they're helping those in need. See if you can speak with the religious leader, like a priest, imam or rabbi when you need someone to speak or grieve with during this time. 

Watch this: Keep in touch with loved ones while keeping your distance

Plant something in your garden or in a pot

The act of planting a flower, ornamental bush or even a fruit-bearing tree in the yard could provide comfort as a symbol of life, of hope, or even simply as one way you've chosen to honor the deceased.

Reach out to online support groups

If someone close to you has died, seek a Facebook or other online group to share your thoughts and experiences, ask for ideas and even just read to know you're not alone. 

Live and Work Well, a website for well-being and behavioral health, suggests looking into online support groups for grief and loss. You can find others in your area that are grieving through websites such as Grief Support. At this time, the groups are meeting online.


Create an online photo album.

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Make a donation in your loved one's memory

If your friend or family member was involved in a charity or organization, you can make a donation in the person's memory and suggest that others do the same, if they're looking for ways to help. 

You can also donate to causes that are helping those who are sick reach out to their families. One organization is The Giving Back Fund -- they're raising money to buy tablets to place in hospitals to give family members a chance to say goodbye to patients who are critically ill.

Create a crowdsourced photo album or scrapbook

Gather all the photos you have of your loved one and ask friends and relatives to send you digital copies as well. Google Photos will let you store an unlimited quantity of high-resolution photos for $2 a month. You can invite friends and family to upload their photos so they're all in one place. Then create a photo album using an online service to give you something tangible to flip through.

In addition, collect and print out memories like favorite stories and text messages of support, and paste them into a physical notebook or scrapbook. You can also share the messages digitally in a virtual document.


Tap into online resources to help you.

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Plan a physical memorial service once restrictions are lifted

Remember that the physical distancing restrictions won't last forever and you can have an in-person memorial service when it's safe to gather. If it helps get you closer to closure, you can begin planning the service, including what you'd like to say.

Accept help and ask for it

Accepting help from others can be as beneficial to them as it is to you. Let those in your community send you food deliveries, shop for your groceries and help you get through the necessary but unpleasant logistics of informing people. You'll still eventually need to contact banks and financial institutions yourself (because of password security). The list can get overwhelming, so let others help where they can so you can do what you need to do -- mourn, busy yourself with logistics or whatever else the case may be.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.