In this time of Covid-19 there seems to be an air of “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” around remembrance ceremonies. We’re living in a day and age where we hear more and more people saying, “I don’t want a funeral,” and/or, “I hate funerals.” Now that so many people have had their ability to be with their dead or gather in community taken from them, the value in being able to do so is all too apparent. Just as many folks are now seeing the value in (and are more appreciative of) stay-at-home moms, school teachers, and the ability to dine out, so too are people realizing just how important remembrance ceremonies truly are.
Calling on a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant® who specializes in funerals has long-been a way to elevate remembrance gatherings. The personalized nature of custom ceremonies crafted by Celebrants ensures that life-honorings are unique and authentic.
Covid-19 required Celebrants to tap into their adaptability and resilience. We are no stranger to being adaptable, nor resilient. Even on a good day, even in a pre-Covid world, we worked with families going through some really, really tough stuff. Like so many, we shifted our offerings on the fly, and are faring forward.
While some funeral homes have taken to live streaming from the funeral home or graveside, many Celebrants are offering more interactive experiences than that by leveraging technology like Zoom. Virtual ceremonies of this nature can still incorporate many traditional elements like photo slide shows, song, live music, poem, eulogy, open mics, and rituals. In many cases, attendees can be actively involved in a group ritual like lighting candles altogether in their own homes, or being invited to hold on to a touchstone during the ceremony that connects them to the departed like a ball cap, piece of jewelry, a photo, or a recipe book.
While virtual ceremonies (for good reason) are unlikely to become the norm in a post-Covid world, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on how virtual ceremonies have benefited the bereaved in ways one might not have guessed. After one Celebration-of-Life via Zoom, a family member reached out to share that she was comforted by being able to, “sit on my couch with my favorite blankie, and my kittycat, rather than sitting on a hard pew.” Another bereaved said, “normally I wouldn’t sing in a group because I’m embarrassed, but because I was home and on mute, I lifted my voice quite comfortably.” During one eulogist’s speaking time, I watched as a beloved furbaby licked tears from their grieving person’s face.
Many out-of-state attendees have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate in a virtual ceremony because even in a world without Covid they would not have otherwise been able to attend the ceremony due to barriers including cost of travel, work commitments, or health limitations like late-term pregnancy or post-op recovery. All things that made travel a barrier to entry.
Sentiments of, “I’m glad I got to be here,” abound.
In addition to the virtual ceremony itself, Celebrants encourage and inspire families to participate in other meaningful rituals while distancing, like building a memorial altar in a yard, driving in a procession, creating a collaborative music playlist in memory of the departed, and the list goes on.
Another advantageous feature on Zoom is the use of breakout rooms, where attendees can be broken up into groups in different rooms and share with one another, like they would at a reception, for example.
From March-June funeral families in many places were limited to in-person gatherings of five to ten people (if that.) On June 18, 2020 Colorado began allowing fifty percent capacity (up to fifty people) for indoor life-rites ceremonies in churches, funeral homes, and other small venues. Large venues may have up to one hundred attendees, provided that social distancing mandates are adhered to, however these guidelines apply to ceremonies only. Receptions are still prohibited.
Because the number of attendees allowed at a ceremony has grown, a Celebrant is now more likely to be welcomed among those fifty than when services were limited to five or ten. Concerns of viral spread remain, so families (especially those with vulnerable members) may opt for something small in the way of an intimate (but distanced) in-person gathering, while also having a virtual ceremony, open to the community at large, in addition. It’s hard to know exactly what remembrance ceremonies will look like going forward, but I suspect we will see more hybrid ceremonies, where in-person gathering, hugs, and touch are the cornerstones, but where technology is incorporated more than it ever was before, in large part to be more inclusive to those who simply can’t attend in person.
There’s value in being in community, and gathering. There is value in precaution. There is value in technology. We’re working in the intersection, doing the absolute best we can with what we’ve got, giving families all that we can, how we can, including our love.