During a pandemic, restrictions on gatherings mean bereaved people have to honour those who have died in ways that are different to normal.

This may feel very hard if it would be normal for you, at this time, to come together face to face with a lot of family and friends to support each other.

This time may feel particularly challenging if it is important to you, for cultural or religious reasons, to do something very soon after someone has died, for example rituals involving cleaning or dressing someone’s body, and it is not possible to undertake these rituals at this time.

People who may be able to offer you helpful advice at this time include faith and cultural leaders and other people who normally look after the bodies of people who have died, or who lead remembrance events, such as a funeral.

This page has some ideas that may be helpful to you.

A special place

You may want to set up a special place in your home, for as long as you like, where you can go to think about your loved one. This could include a photo of them and perhaps some flowers or something else that you consider special.

Some people find they like to walk to a special place to remember their loved one, perhaps as part of a regular exercise regime. For example, a particular tree in a park. Gentle exercise can help some people at this time.

Spend your time planning, with others

Take your time, with other people, planning an event you want to hold after the pandemic is over.

Planning an event provides an opportunity to talk about someone who has died and how you all want to remember or celebrate their life. Talking with other people can be very comforting.

It may not be possible to know when this event can take place, but you can decide what you would like to happen at it and tell people they will be invited when it is safe to arrange a date.

Sometimes, some people have strong views about what they think should happen.

Try to find ways to help everyone have their views heard and their needs understood without it causing upset to you or anyone else.

You could plan to hold the event in a particular place that was important to your loved one, or to hold it on a special date next year such as their birthday or on the anniversary of the day they died.

A memorial event in your home

If you are self-isolating with other people who loved the person who has died, you might decide to hold a small memorial event in your home. Discuss what it feels right to do.

You might want to consider each of you speaking for a short time to share memories, listening to music, reading out a poem, or saying a prayer, or doing something else that has meaning to you all. Focus on your loved one’s life to decide what to do.

Think about what you are going to do after your event to help you support each other.

One idea is to make and share a meal together. Perhaps include food that the person who died loved to eat.

Sharing memories online

You may want to invite friends and family to share memories and photos of the person who has died. Some people use private pages on social media, or you could use private group chats on messaging services, or a group email.

A memorial event online

It is possible to use modern technology to gather people together in a virtual room to memorialise the person who has died and offer love and support to each other.

Talk about this idea with people you love and decide if this is what you would like to do.

For example, you could use Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime. You could do this as well as planning an event for after the pandemic is over.

Some tips on planning an online event:

  • Decide an agreed date and time and how long it will last.
  • Find someone in your family, or a family friend or helper in your community, who is good with technology, to coordinate it and help everyone to join in.
  • Plan what is going to happen and when. Send people the programme in an email so they know what to expect. For example, length of eulogies and who will read them out, any music you want to be played, or songs sung, or opportunities for people to say things or do things together or pray together.
  • You may want to choose someone to lead the event. This could be someone within your family, a family friend, or a professional who normally leads an event, such as a funeral celebrant.

Making memories last

Here are some ideas that have been used by other people to memorialise their loved one who has died:

  • Place a notice of your loved one’s death in a newspaper to honour their life. Perhaps make it longer by saying some of the things you loved about them and asking people to take the time to remember them at a certain time on a particular day.
  • Write a eulogy (something you would normally read out) or poem that celebrates your loved one. When it is written you could email it to family and friends, or post it on social media, perhaps with a photo. After the pandemic is over, you could read it out at a gathering.
  • Make a collage of photos of your loved one that you frame. Or post pictures, or a slide show, on a social media platform, for other people to view. If you don’t know how to do this, a friend may be able to help.
  • Use an online music player, such as Spotify, to make play lists of your loved one’s favourite music, and share it with your friends.
  • Make a memory box, containing things that remind you of your loved one, and that you would want any other members of your family to look at too. For example, trinkets, jewellery, post cards.
  • Join an online tribute website, where you can put a star in a digital sky, or a flower in a digital garden.
  • If you have a garden, make an area where you can remember the person who has died. For example, a place where you can sit, or where you can plant things, or where you could put an object such as a sculpture.
  • Choose a small momento, such as an item of jewellery, that reminds you of your loved one, and choose to keep it close by or wear it.
  • Create a piece of art or craft to express how you are feeling or remind you of your loved one. This could be a painting, a drawing, or something you make, for example out of clay or something you sew or knit. Some people write poetry, songs, create music or even a dance.
  • Some people start a gratitude journal. Every day, for a length of time you decide, write down positive memories about your loved one’s life, or their personality, that you are grateful for.

Consider giving

Many people want to make a donation in their loved one’s name to their favourite charity, or to a charity working to prevent your loved one’s cause of death, or to Sudden, which cares for people suddenly bereaved. Tell friends and families where they can make donations too.

With thanks, for many of the included ideas, to the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand.