“Today is a first that is difficult to share. I’ve had just attended an online live of a funeral service…. I needed somewhere to air my feelings because I don’t know how to deal with it right now…. just overwhelmed with sadness…”

“Going to my first virtual/online funeral service tomorrow. That was on my bucket list. Said no one ever.”

“Having to attend my first virtual funeral this morning. Pray for families during this time that have to experience this hurt.”

“I watched (live streaming) a funeral of a close relative. It would have to have been the saddest experience ever. The wife sitting alone and socially isolated from her family (just 10 allowed). No other words but cruel.”

These are just some of the harrowing comments I have read in the last few weeks on my personal Facebook feed as those who have lost loved ones express their devastation at being unable to attend the funeral of their loved one to pay their last respects.

“Grief is just love with no place to go.”

Jamie Anderson

What happens when we can’t share our grief?

For many of us, holding a funeral or memorial service is the way we say goodbye to our loved ones. Even though people of different cultures mourn very differently, most mourning rituals regardless of religion or race involve time spent together supporting one another in grief. Not being able to come together to mourn only adds trauma to the deepest pain felt by those left behind.

Right now, in Australia, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, numbers at funerals are limited and while restrictions are beginning to lift to allow larger numbers to attend, those number restrictions still mean that not everyone who might wish to pay their respects can do so in person. If that was not bad enough, those who attend are required to stand at least 1.5m apart within a 4m square – unable to hold hands, hold each other up or hug each other – unless they are members of the same household.

It is truly heartbreaking to contemplate not being able to give comfort to each other while grieving. It can, in fact compound grief and complicate it if alternative rituals are not considered and undertaken.   Clinical psychologist, Dr Emanuela Brusadelli put it this way (in a recent interview for ABC News) :

“Rituals to face death are essential. With rituals, we start to elaborate the process of grief so, in a certain way, we feel active in the face of the death especially during this period that we feel powerless and everything is out of our control. Because the normal rituals are not possible at the moment, it is very important for us – and our mental health – to create new ones to help ourselves understand what is happening.”

Covid 19 is only one reason why funerals might not go ahead

Although this is true now as we face Covid-19 restrictions, it can be equally important for any family who might not be able to hold a funeral service for their loved one for other reasons. This might be because their loved one’s body was never found, or was unable to be recovered. It might be because their loved one expressed the wish not to hold a funeral, or because the family could not afford to hold one. It might also be because the funeral has to be delayed to allow autopsies to be performed or to allow time for other family members to recover from an accident or incident that caused the death of their loved one.

10 ways to mourn together without a funeral

It is a common misconception that funerals need to be held immediately after a person has passed away. You can choose to postpone the service if you wish to. Cremation can also be arranged without any funeral service and the ashes kept pending a later funeral or memorial service.

If you have recently lost a loved one and are not holding a funeral service immediately or want to include others who are unable to attend, here are a few alternate ways you could honour your loved one beyond a traditional in-person service.

1. Share the funeral service by video link

Invite those who can’t attend the funeral service in person to attend by live-stream video link in their homes or even from their cars in the car park. Most funeral organisers will be able to set this up for you if you ask. Alternately you can do your own filming with your own video camera or smart phone.

You might also like to have the service video-recorded so that you have a permanent memory of the day and so you can share that with others unable to attend. Having this recording can also help you process the day, by replaying the video when you are in a less stressed environment.

2. Bringing others into the service in different ways

Consider inviting those who can’t be present to partake in the service in other ways. They could be asked to find a reading or a poem and record themselves reading it out.

Helium balloons tied to a pew or a soft toy, a single flower or sprig of rosemary placed on a seat could be used to symbolise the attendance of those who could not be there in person.

Extend the invitation to others to attend by video link from cars parked nearby. One touching story I read mentioned that after watching the funeral service by video from their cars, friends and extended family then drove past immediate family members in a procession of honour. Some left flowers, others left cards, others spoke kind words. All of it meant the world to the family left behind.

3. Hold a “progressive” wake in a park, local hall or restaurant

If number restrictions mean you can’t all be together at one time, consider holding a progressive wake, where you can ask people to stop by in smaller groups for a set period of time so that over a few hours you can meet up with those wishing to pay their respects.

Alternatively hold a wake by zoom or skype so that you can chat and share stories by video. Mourning through a computer screen is not ideal, but it can provide a great alternative way to connect with others who can’t be there in person.

4. Invite others to hold their own “mini” memorial service

Large funerals or memorial services can at times be overwhelming. Think about the alternative of holding several smaller services with groups who knew your loved one in different contexts e.g. work groups, community groups, friendship groups, hobby groups, exercise groups etc.

5. Memorialise your loved one’s Facebook page or other social media accounts and ask others to contribute.

If you have your loved one’s log in details or are named as their “legacy contact” for their social media accounts, memorialising those pages can be one way to have people send their messages to you (rather than reaching out to you directly). You can also invite others to post their memories and their photos and their wishes to the family here.  Livestreamed video of the memorial service can be uploaded for others to access on these platforms too. Just bear in mind that if the pages are made public, they can be open to unwanted posting or interruption by others.

6. Set up a dedicated online memorial page.

A dedicated memorial page is another virtual memorial option which can be more secure than social media pages. Here you can ask family and friends to send in and share their favourite photo, story or memory of your loved one. The memories are kept on one site and can be accessed easily by those who have contributed for years to come. One Australian example is https://www.heavenaddress.com/ but there are many other online memorial platforms.

7. Set up a dedicated space at home with photos, candles, personal items and flowers and invite others who wish to do the same.

Having a dedicated space to remember and honour your loved one can be another helpful way to set up individual memorial spaces if you can’t all be together to mourn.

8. Put together a photo or video montage or compile a playlist of songs

Putting together a memorial slide show or video can be a wonderful way to walk down memory lane. You can do this yourself for free using Movie Maker or iMovie apps and then upload it to YouTube or Vimeo to share with others.

Putting together a play list of your loved one’s favourite music (and asking others for ideas for that) can also be a great way to share memories and stories about your loved one in a lasting way that can be shared with others.

9. Ask others to do something to remember your loved one by

If your loved one enjoyed the outdoors invite others to go for a walk outdoors at a set time and date to remember your loved one. If your loved one was an avid gardener post out seeds for them to plant in their own garden or ask others to plant a tree in their memory. Ask others to wear your loved one’s favourite colour for a day to remember them that way. Ask those who do, to share photos or videos of them participating in this way.

10. Set up a fundraiser or invite others to join a cause to honour your loved one.

Seeing something good come from death can help you come to terms with your loss. Consider setting up a fundraiser for your loved one’s favourite charity, or ask people to donate to research organisations or to the organisations who cared for your loved one. Reminding others to donate blood or plasma regularly or to register as organ donors can be another powerful way to remember your loved one in a positive life affirming way.

Although these alternative mourning rituals might not be what you envisaged for your loved one, they can provide a way to help you process your grief even if in a temporary way until you are able to remember your loved one the way you hoped to.

Stay safe and be prepared during Covid19

If you do plan to hold a funeral service during the Covid19 Pandemic be sure to follow the funeral guidelines for your State or make sure you have applied for the exemptions available in some cases on compassionate grounds. In Queensland the links (including the links for exemption applications) can be accessed here.

While the Queensland borders remain closed, if you expect to have guests travelling from interstate, they will need to apply for an entry pass within 48 hours of intended travel.    

Sadly, I have read of one occasion where police unwittingly caused unnecessary distress to a mourning family when they arrived at a funeral service to ensure attendees were taking the necessary and appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

If you choose to hold a small funeral service for your loved one during the Pandemic, you may wish to consider these further steps.

Contact the police to let them know that you are planning to hold a funeral service and explain what steps you are taking to follow the Covid19 guidelines. You could also give the police the contact number for your funeral director, or someone else who will be attending the funeral, so that if they have any concerns they can contact that person instead of interrupting the service in person. If you are livestreaming or webcasting the funeral service, you may also like to provide your local police access to the service that way so that they can ‘virtually’ check-in if they need to ensure that all attendees are following social distancing practices, without disrupting the service in person.

An opportunity to do things differently

The need to share grief together is something at the very core of our humanity. When circumstances beyond our control mean that we can’t hold the ritual or service we expected, we have two choices. We either let that circumstance compound our grief, or we get creative and find unique ways to honour our loved one differently.

The upside to thinking outside the square, is that we can by joining the ideas of others, find unique, alternate ways to mourn. These new rituals have their own intimacy and their own power to help us process the loss of our loved one.

I would love to hear your stories or experiences on how you or others have remembered their loved ones when you were not all able to be together at a funeral service. Please comment below so that others who read this post might take comfort and inspiration from those who found a different way to mourn. If you know anyone who might benefit from reading this blog, please feel free to share it with them.

If you have recently lost a loved one and need help navigating the legal steps that follow after death – we can help reduce the overwhelm. If you need help navigating next steps please contact us by phone or email, or click here to arrange your complimentary 15 minute call. For free, step by step resources click here or read our other blog post on the important first steps to take.

If you would like to read more about navigating the legal fallout following the loss of a loved one, click here to purchase your copy of Rest in Peace, written by Zinta Harris.

We have tried to keep legal jargon to a minimum on this website and in our blogs, but we have included an easy to understand glossary to help you better understand the legal terms you might see along the way.

Zinta Harris

Meet Zinta

Founder and Principal of Resolve Estate Law. Accredited Specialist Business Law (Qld) and Accredited Specialist Succession Law (Qld). TEP Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.

I am Zinta Harris. I live in Brisbane, Australia with my husband of 25 years, Craig (known by most as Harry) and our two children Teja and Zigi. I am a specialist wills and estates lawyer by day and inspiration seeker by night. I help Australian families navigate the legal fallout after the loss of a loved one in a calm and compassionate way.

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