One key feature of the traditional funeral is the opportunity for family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, to come together in person. Whether it’s a religious or non-religious ceremony, cremation or burial, that sense of being together is central.

So what do we do when coming together is the very thing that’s not possible? At the moment countries across the world are in lockdown to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection. Here in Scotland that has meant drastically reduced opportunity to travel and gather. Funerals are still taking place in Dundee and surrounding areas but with very reduced numbers. This means that hard decisions have to be made about who can and can’t attend. And strict social distancing is being enforced at crematoriums and cemeteries.

One answer that some celebrants and funeral directors are exploring is to use Zoom, FaceBook, Vimeo and other internet software to conduct “web ceremonies” or “virtual funerals”. To get people together online and to deliver a eulogy, play music, read poetry, say prayers or share stories and memories.

macbook with candle

Just a year ago that might have seemed farfetched but lockdown is forcing us to rethink how we work and how we interact. I’ve now conducted a couple of test funerals with a panel of “mystery mourners”. Also an actual funeral at Co-op FuneralCare, Perth that I streamed using Zoom to include members of the deceased’s family in Canada.

There are lots of technical problems to overcome but I’m now able to see that this way of working is possible. It can even bring some benefits. There’s an opportunity to bring family and friends together. To work creatively and to allow more participation than is possible in the traditional ceremony. To create an online space that allows for dignity and respect.

If you are facing the prospect of having to arrange a minimal funeral in a near-empty crematorium followed by a memorial that you can’t even get a date for yet, consider a web ceremony. I am happy to discuss this with anyone in this position or with a funeral director looking at options. Contact me to chat. I have made a video of a virtual web ceremony for a fictional person if you would like a better idea of how this can work.

I’d also love to talk to other celebrants to share ideas and skills. I’m working with local celebrants like Cate Reid and Angela Maughan. But the beauty of the web ceremonial idea is that we can collaborate further afield and across borders and at time of writing (January 2021) I am working with a London based Humanist celebrant, Carrie Thomas on a ceremony. Very happy to discuss my work with others.