Online Vigils: Grieving Together Even When We’re Apart

21 April 2021
Rebecca Noble

Guest post by Susan Flipping, with the Institute of Civil Funerals

As families become increasingly separated geographically, it becomes more and more difficult for everyone to experience the traditional love and support that comes from attending a funeral. 

The COVID-19 pandemic made it even worse, with the additional problems of travel being restricted and a cap on the number of mourners allowed at the ceremony. 

MuchLoved makes it possible for families separated by distance to use their tribute page to share the details of a new kind of celebrant-led ceremony, known as an online vigil or remembrance, to connect meaningfully with friends and relatives across the world.

What is an online vigil?

An online vigil is an event where bereaved families come together virtually to share memories, pay tribute and support each other in a way that is less formal than the funeral ceremony but more structured than the reception afterwards. It can include music and readings, scripted tributes and stories about the person they have lost. It’s an opportunity for them to cry and laugh together and remember and celebrate a life well-lived. 

How can it help your families?

Vigils like this offer many benefits. Not being in a physical venue gives a family complete freedom when it comes to choosing the time and day and there’s no limit to the length of time they can spend online. Families can come together around the time of the funeral itself or at a later date, perhaps for a birthday or on the anniversary of the death, and remember that person however they wish.  

As an event separate from the funeral, a remembrance can be relaxed, even light-hearted. It can be more inclusive; people who may not have been able to speak at the funeral ceremony – whatever the reason – may appreciate the opportunity to participate. 

Meanwhile, how many times have you left an event saying; ‘What a shame I didn’t get a chance to speak with X’? With an online vigil, everyone can see and speak with everyone else. 

Tops Tips: How your clients can make their online vigil a success

Here are our top tips for you to share with your families, so their online remembrance is a success.

1. Schedule and share - in advance. Choose a video platform and schedule the event. It's a good idea to consider a day and time that is as convenient as possible for everyone who would like to attend, wherever they are in the world and whatever their other commitments.

Your clients then add the details to their MuchLoved tribute page, if possible at least a week in advance, email invitations out and, if appropriate, post on social media. For privacy, it’s advisable for them only to share the link with trusted contacts. 

2. Designate one person as the host / MC. A family can run things themselves, but bringing in a celebrant or other external person means that they will be able to relax during the event.

A celebrant has the experience to help arrange a flexible running order in advance, deal with the technology, keep things running smoothly and ensure that everyone who wants to say something gets the opportunity – that also means gently moving things along if one contributor is taking a disproportionate amount of time.

It's a good idea to ask in advance who would like to contribute and how, but remember that an online vigil lends itself to spontaneity as well. 

3. Create a vigil pack for everyone attending. This is the family's chance to make their remembrance event personal and special, and all about the person they're remembering.

Information on their MuchLoved page could include their loved one’s favourite recipe or cocktail for everyone to make beforehand and enjoy during the vigil. They can add details of any dress code – a particular colour or theme, for example, or simply ‘smart casual’. A physical vigil pack might also include a little gift – a CD from the collection of the person being remembered, or a memorial bookmark, perhaps – or something that reminds the recipient of the person being honoured. Whichever the family decides to create, they can also remind the recipient of the charity they're supporting through MuchLoved. 

4. Set the scene for everyone attending. The final details and scene-setting are very important. Families can suggest that everyone attending turns off phones and TVs, and that they have to hand a favourite photograph or something that reminds them of the person being remembered. If practicable, perhaps they could spray some of their loved one's favourite scent or aftershave.

Families can also choose to include symbolic actions and rituals that bring people together in active remembrance. For example, they could ask everyone attending to light a candle at the beginning of the vigil with a few formal words from the celebrant. If appropriate, there could be a prayer or a moment of reflection. Everyone in attendance could be asked to join in singing a favourite song or hymn. The family could fundraise with everyone donating to play a favourite game and a (virtual) gift for the winner, or they could toast the person they're remembering. 

The possibilities for online vigils are endless – your families just need to make them personal and appropriate to the loved one they have lost and for the people who are attending.


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© The MuchLoved Charitable Trust 2020, all rights reserved. The MuchLoved Charitable Trust is a UK Registered Charity No. 1118590.
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