How to pay your respects at a virtual funeral

We’re certainly living in strange times, and that’s meant that it’s no longer just the far-flung relatives who are attending funerals virtually.

In some cases, New Zealanders are virtually attending funerals that are happening a short drive away.

These measures will be one for the history books and a bizarre period to look back on later down the road. But for right now, some of us are going to have to go through the surreal motions of attending a funeral via video link.

If that’s you – our condolences in this trying time. Not being there in person is almost certainly always harder than actually being present, and hopefully something we don’t have to do for much longer.

Here’s how to prepare to attend a virtual funeral, proper etiquette during the proceedings and what you can do afterwards.

How to prepare to attend a virtual funeral

For starters, just like in-person funerals, it’s important to RSVP to the host. This way they will know to expect you and can plan accordingly.

You should also set up all of your equipment and software well ahead of the event. Download any programs you might need and do a test run to make sure you can hear the audio clearly.

If you are going to be speaking or sharing a few words, set up your camera so they can see you clearly, and remove anything distracting from the background.

You might even want to make sure you know how to turn off filters and backgrounds, just in case you accidentally turn them on and turn yourself into a cat. It’s unquestionably hilarious if you’re a lawyer in a business meeting, but not so much during a funeral.

You can also ask the host if there’s anything you can do to prepare. For example, they might have something they’d like you to wear in particular, or perhaps they have plans to hand out a favourite treat or drink of the deceased following the funeral. This way you can prepare accordingly and feel a little closer to those attending in person as you join in.

Finally, don’t just be on time - be early. If your software isn’t working on the day, you’ll want time to fix it without having to disrupt proceedings, or potentially miss out on the event.

Etiquette for a virtual funeral

Just because you’re attending virtually, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for good etiquette.

To begin, wear something appropriate. You can probably get away with pajama pants and slippers that no one can see, but a nice top or shirt and a comb through your hair will show the occasion the respect it deserves.

Typically, many people wear black to a funeral, but that’s not a strict rule. So long as it’s tidy and appropriate.

Of course, you should also have your camera switched on (if not requested otherwise). This will show anyone on the other end that you’re paying attention and are present in the moment. But more importantly, it will likely give some comfort to those you are not able to be with in person.

However, your microphone should be switched off. You don’t want the doorbell ringing or the dog barking in the background during a poignant moment. And just in case, switch your phone to mute as well.

That said, make sure everyone else in your home, human or otherwise, knows not to bother you. Lock the cat out, ask someone to take the dog for a walk, get a sitter for the kids, and give yourself the peace and quiet you need to not just stay attentive during the funeral, but have that time to connect and mourn.

Keep a box of tissues and some water nearby should you need them, but save the snacks for later.

What to do after a virtual funeral

When you attend a funeral in person, it is usually followed by mingling, hugs and chats, sharing memories, and perhaps calming the nerves with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Even those attending in person may not be able to do all of these things, but you can all work together to recreate the feeling of togetherness as best you can.

Stay on the line after the funeral to see if the host or anyone feels like a chat, or simply to say hello.

However, be mindful of your ‘host’. If one person is carrying the virtual you around on a laptop or other device, take the time to greet other mourners, but don’t stay on the line for too long – your host will probably need some time to chat and grieve without needing to think about who to carry you to next.

If you like, you can reach out to others and set up a virtual call later on that day or evening, where you can all get together virtually and share stories. This will be less formal than the official funeral, but can further help to bring you all together and find some closure in shared memories.

Another option is to send out an email sharing your memories and photos and inviting other attendees to do the same.

Importantly, you will need to thank your host for helping you to attend from afar. A card in the mail would be a nice touch, or even a bouquet of flowers.

Speaking of flowers, you could also follow up by sending a bouquet to the family of the deceased. Or, they might ask that in lieu of flowers, those who wish to give something can donate to the deceased’s favourite charity.

And if it all gets you thinking about your own send off one day, you can look into creating a plan for your own funeral. From what kind of music you’d like and where you’d like it to be held, to how your family will pay for it all (OneChoice Funeral Insurance has your back), are all things you can plan ahead.

It’s a wonderful final gift to your loved ones to have it largely planned out so they don’t have to make those tough decisions during the grieving process.