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How to Include Remote Guests in a Funeral

If you’ve never hosted or attended an online funeral, knowing how to involve your guests can be confusing. If everyone’s muted all the time, how can anyone feel involved? What’s the best way to help people feel connected? Should you invite folks to speak up or stay muted the entire time? As the host, you have many options in this area and can make the experience an important and meaningful one for all attending and involved.

Before you get started

If this is your first time hosting a large online event, it can be a big help to ensure you have an organized plan for the event itself. Just because the event is happening virtually doesn’t mean it’s going to come without its own set of challenges. Preparing a plan ahead of time (and even sanity checking with your funeral director and friends and family regarding the plan) can help the event go as smoothly as possible. Here are some things to consider before getting started:

  • How long do you want the online event to last?
  • Is this a hybrid service and if so, how will you handle both in-person attendees and online attendees during the service?
  • Where will the webcam be located if this is a hybrid service?
  • Who will monitor the chat for incoming questions and comments?
  • Do you have the software and hardware needed to host an online memorial service? (Zoom, update browsers, a stable internet connection, a laptop or PC, a webcam, a working microphone and working speakers?)
  • What kind of activities do you want during the service? (A memorial slideshow? A space for attendees to share stories? Complete silence?)
  • How many people are going to attend? (Zoom is free for up to 100 participants, but only up to 40 minutes.)
  • How will you notify people of the event? (Setting up a memorial website to notify participants is highly recommended.)
  • How will you share the virtual funeral information?

Answering these questions will help guide you as to the type of event you’d like to host and will prepare you for questions that may come up during the event and planning process. Your funeral director (as well as friends and family) will also likely be able to help you answer these questions if you find yourself overwhelmed or stuck.

Virtual funeral ideas

One of the best things you can do to include guests in a remote funeral is to include space in the program for guests to speak and interact with one another. Creating space in the events for there to be guest interaction makes this easier to control, more organized, and gives everyone time to come together during the funeral. Here are some ways you can include your guests in your Zoom funeral program.

Provide a program so folks know which events are taking place when.

To start, it’s a good idea to provide a program or itinerary to folks so that they know when to expect certain parts of the funeral. If they’re unsure when stories and memories are being shared, they may feel unprepared or awkward sharing a story on the spot. Giving them a general overview of what to expect can help them feel more comfortable and ready to engage.

Encourage chat box usage.

The chat box is an excellent feature for those who have questions or something to say when someone else is speaking, those who have no microphones, anyone who is camera shy or doesn’t want to speak, and for anyone else who prefers chat over text. The chat box is also great at getting non-verbal responses whenever questions are asked. It’s a great tool and easy way to engage the attendees without getting too much noise or folks speaking over one another. To up the engagement, it can help if you designate one person to watch the chat box for questions, responses, prompts, etc. and have them read the text aloud. This can minimize chaos during the virtual funeral and still allow people to be heard.

Provide a time for guests to share stories, memories, and condolences.

Set a specific time in the program where guests can share their favorite stories, moments, memories, and condolences (if they wish). Let everyone know a general time limit to stick to if you have a lot of guests and include some prompts to get folks started if it seems like no one wants to be first to go. Some good prompts include “What is your favorite memory with ?” “Where did you first meet _?” “What’s something you know about _____ that most people don't?”

Encourage guests to send you content beforehand.

You can ask folks attending to send in the memories they’d otherwise share at the funeral beforehand by contributing to the Memories tab of your memorial website. You can also ask that they submit favorite photos and videos that you can later put together as a memorial slideshow in your loved one’s honor. Including the name of the person who posted the memory or shared the photo or video can help guests feel included and connected.

Ask for submissions for readings beforehand.

A great way to include remote guests is to ask them to share something they’d like read aloud during the service if they’re attending remotely. Ask folks to send you a passage, poem, reading, or quote they find meaningful or relevant to the life of the person who passed away and have a designated speaker read it aloud during the service. You can also invite folks to read their own piece aloud during a designated section of the service.

Acknowledge the presence of remote guests in some way.

If you’re hosting a hybrid service that has some folks attending in person and some attending online, try to include the remote guests by acknowledging their attendance in some way during the in-person service. This can include directly addressing them on camera, thanking them for attending, or referring to them throughout the service whenever stories come up or if you’d like to invite them to share.

Virtual funeral service program examples

Here’s an example of what a virtual funeral service could look like.

Welcome & greeting: The Zoom host can open the room and greet each attendee as they join. This is a great time to provide a gentle reminder to the attendees that (if you prefer) they mute their mics and turn on or off their cameras if they’d like to. It’s also a good idea to have presentation software set up (such as Google Slides) and shared that shows the order of events, so folks know what to expect.

Prayer or reading: You can include this on the presentation software for others to follow along or have the reader read this without it.

Song of choice: Either have one designated person sing the song, ask attendees to unmute their mics and all sing (this can get overwhelming), or have everyone sing to themselves at home by following along.

Eulogy: Ideally, only the person reading the eulogy should be unmuted during this section.

Song of choice: Similar to the first song, you can have someone solo sing this, invite others to sing along unmuted, or invite folks to privately sing while muted.

Memory sharing: Invite attendees to share short stories or memories about the person who passed away.

Closing remarks and goodbye: This is another good time to invite folks to unmute and give their final goodbye or final remarks at the end of the service.

Here are some other template examples with different activities you can consider including during the virtual funeral.

Virtual funeral service program template #2

[Deceased’s full name]
[Date of birth] - [Date of death]
[favorite quote]

Participants
[List of names]

Welcome & greeting
By [Name]

[Passage or reading title] by [author name]
Read by [Name]

[Title of song] by [original artist name]
Performed by [Full name]

Memorial slideshow

Invitation to share memories & moments

[Title of song] by [original artist name]
Performed by [Full name]

Closing remarks

Virtual funeral service program template #3

[Deceased’s full name]
[Date of birth] - [Date of death]

Participants
[List of names]

Order of Service

Welcome & greeting
By [Name]

[Title of song] by [original artist name]
Performed by [Full name]

[Title of poem] by [author’s name]
Read by [Name]

Eulogy
Read by [name]

Memorial slideshow

Invitation to share memories & moments

Closing remarks

Feel free to use these templates as foundations and add to them or alter them to fit your needs. You can add additional memorial events as you see fit and include any unique adaptations you’d like to that can help in personalizing the service. Sharing your program (either online or by mail) is a great way to make sure that all those attending know what to expect.

In charge of hosting upcoming virtual funeral services? Starting a memorial website is an easy way to keep your attendees in the loop and aware of important details. A memorial website is also a great place to collect memories, photos, donations, and stories -- all of which you can refer to during your virtual memorial service.

Start a memorial website

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Last updated August 20, 2021
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