When I turned on my iPhone camera at the edge of the podium and started to live stream my mother’s memorial via Zoom, I was struck by how my work building online communities helped her friends and family come together to celebrate her life. I am sure she would have been equal parts proud and horrified by our ingenuity.
For others who find themselves in similar situations of virtual mourning or trying to grieve when they cannot gather, here are a few things that were comforting when both of my parents died earlier this year.
If you cannot get there in person, talk to your loved one over the phone or video. Record and send it to someone to replay later. Read poetry, sing bawdy songs, come together with those who are there in a concert of love. Just the background noise of you talking may be a salve to one who is sick. I remember a friend whose father died and the smile she saw play across his face when he heard the children outside playing. Ask those who are not present to think of smells your loved one likes, a favorite blanket or photo, or other ideas to help everyone participate in this transition. It will be meaningful for all of you.
Gather photos. You can do this by looking through your loved ones Facebook account or your own. You can search on your phone or Facebook on a person’s image. Gather stories. Invite stories too. They are fun to read together over a call.Make a video. I found it cathartic to go through old photos and do the videos on Animoto. You can upload your own music or use their own. There is even a memorial template to get you started.
Make on online scrapbook. Lifeweb360 offers multi-media options that everyone can upload to. It can then be printed or stored so that you can look at it later when there is time and opportunity to gather.
Pick up the phone and call people. They are not travelling! It is nice to reach out to people who are close. When my best friend died, I was halfway around the world in Hong Kong. I called all our friends to inform them about her death and memorial. It was easier to stay up late to make calls and helped the family. Reminisce, make space for your big emotions. Make space to share them.
As my friend Jennifer Fondrevay wrote about her recently deceased mother, “I write about her today to make sure that during this time, when all of our attention is understandably directed elsewhere, that we don’t let the ones we lose slip away without acknowledgement.” In this time when we are all online, you can see friends reaching out to uplift those who are grieving. This is not a time to worry about propriety. It is a time to do what works. We are in a new time.
Gather virtually. If you decide to do a celebration, you can invite people in via Zoom. During our memorial I put up a tripod in a corner so that people could listen to people speak. Put someone in charge of moderating the memorial and testing it out first. Mute everyone to begin with and make sure your camera is not sideways. Make sure it is recording. People will ask for the video if they were not able to be there. You might put together a program and send it out to people beforehand with a link to video or other info.
Gather on WhatsApp or WeChat to share stories, photos and memories and black humor if that is your thing. My friend who has lost her child and mother told me to remember the wonderful details things about my parents. 12 things Mom loved to eat. The day dad shaved his head and got an earring (yes, that was really my Dad!). My brother and I found this fun and a good break from the avalanche of admin related to closing accounts and dealing with an estate during the pandemic.
We are all learning fast these days and using unconventional combinations of our skills to solve immediate problems for ourselves and the people around us.
This too shall pass, and you will be able to gather for hugs, condolences, and rituals to mark this time. In the meantime, virtual does have to mean we mourn apart.