A virtual memorial service brought my global family together


By Alex Fenner-Solomon |

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How do you have a ‘send off’ for someone you love so much, when all the ‘normal’ options are suddenly out of the question?

My beloved Gran passed away a week ago. Not the best timing. Not that there is ever a good time to lose a loved one. But the world is so crazy right now with COVID-19 and us all in isolation. 

Once I had caught my breath from the shock of the news, my next thought was, “OK, what the [beep] do we do now?”

How do you have a ‘send off’ befitting for someone you love so much, when all the ‘normal’ options are suddenly out of the question? How do you comfort friends and family, scattered all over the world, when you’re in lockdown? How do you feel connected when you can’t physically connect? When your only option for any form of meaningful connection is digital. And when several members of your family have never even heard of Zoom! Or other video calling platforms for that matter.

These are not questions I ever imagined I’d be asking myself. But I also never imagined I’d be ‘locked down’ in my home in the midst of a pandemic having to deal with the loss of my granny, so...

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If there’s one thing this virus has taught us, it’s that we are adaptable as human beings. Our lives have changed, the way we work has changed, and the way we socially engage has changed, quite literally overnight. And you know what, we’re doing ok. More than ok in fact. So why can’t the way we send off our loved ones change too?

Out of necessity, this virus has taught us to embrace technology like never before. Video chat and AR experiences have allowed us to engage in ways that previously have not been possible. And although the loss of my gran was truly heartbreaking, I do feel fortunate that we could use video chat as a way to connect the family for her final send off with a virtual memorial service.

Using Zoom, we brought the whole family together from seven different countries, something we probably wouldn’t have thought of doing, or have been able to do (considering our varied locations) had we had a more traditional, on-premises service.

Family, some of which we hadn’t seen in years, logged on. People had time. The call lasted for an incredible eight hours. People joined, and people logged off, and then they joined again. The ‘occasion’ lasted a lot longer than any typical memorial service would ever have.

When we first started talking about the idea of a virtual memorial service, I have to say, I was nervous. And rightly so, it was a case of fearing the unknown. For many reasons. Would the technology work? Would it feel weird? Would we all feel ‘connected’ given that we would all be on a screen? And of course, I understand technology and all things digital, but the uncertainty from others must too have been quite overwhelming. But it went better than I could have ever imagined, and hoped for.

We were able to grieve together. Share fond memories together. Toast my gran’s incredible life together. And I truly think she would have been smiling from above, knowing her service was unique and unlike those that have come before her, and thus irreplaceable.

We are all blessed that there are so many different ways to stay connected during this period of isolation, and staying connected is so important. These times are testing. And I don’t wish for anyone to have to deal with saying goodbye to a loved one on top of everything else. But if you do, I want you to know it’ll be OK. In fact, it’ll be more than OK.

A virtual smile will never replace an actual smile, or a hugging emoji will never be better than getting a real hug (especially when you really need one) but thanks to technology, you can still feel connected in some way or another.

My gran absolutely loved the Queen, and all things royal, so it seems pertinent to end with some words from her recent COVID-19 address, “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again”.

Stay safe everyone. And stay connected. And know that whatever may come your way, it will be OK and we will meet again.