Etiquette for Attending a Virtual Funeral

The etiquette for attending a virtual funeral or memorial service is not that much different from that for an in-person ceremony. The use of technology adds a few twists, but it is still a serious occasion where people gather together to support each other and begin the journey through grief. Of course, it never hurts to brush up on the right way to approach the sometimes tricky world of funerals. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of important tips and reminders to use when attending a virtual funeral or live-streamed memorial service.

>>Learn more about Funeral Etiquette

Virtual Funeral Tips and Reminders

  1. RSVP:
    Not all virtual funeral invitations request an RSVP, but if the invitation asks for one, be sure to reply. Replies help the family know how many people to expect and make planning easier.
    Pro Tip: Don’t share the invitation. Unless the family asks you to pass information about the service to others, don’t share the invitation.
  2. Review and follow requests or directions:
    Make sure to read any instructions that the host includes in the invitation. Perhaps the family has requested that everyone wear red or that every one share a story about the deceased. You want to be prepared and try your best to comply with requests.
  3. Load and test your software and hardware in advance:
    You never quite know what might go wrong, so be sure to have your streaming viewer loaded up in plenty of time to join the ceremony on time. Test your audio and video to ensure everything is working as it should BEFORE you join. Familiarize yourself with the software controls to ensure you know how to navigate the program before the actual virtual funeral service begins.
    Pro Tip: Get to know your mute button. Microphones can be extremely sensitive. That means background noise or discussion you have offline may be heard by the entire group unless you have your microphone muted.
  4. Be on time or even better, be a little early: There’s an old saying that says if you aren’t 15 minutes early, you are late. You don’t need to be online that far in advance, but be ready to go at least 5 minutes before the scheduled start.
  5. Be patient: Things can happen that can cause events to start a bit late– especially when technology is involved.  You never know what is happening behind the scenes, and this is a difficult time for the family, so be patient. (Worth repeating–know where your mute button is and how to use it.)
  6. Share your screen and turn on video: The family will likely expect to see those attending. Make sure to turn on your video. Exactly how you do that will depend on the platform used for the virtual funeral service.
  7. Mute your microphone: In some cases, the funeral officiant will start the service by muting everyone. If not, start with your microphone muted. Remember, the microphone can pick up that background noise. Be prepared to toggle back and forth when it is appropriate to speak. If you are using your phone to view the funeral, remember to turn off notifications.
  8. Dress as you would for a traditional funeral:
    These days, you don’t have to wear a traditional black suit to a funeral, but you need to be mindful of the occasion. In general, business casual attire is appropriate. (Learn More about What to Wear to a Funeral)
  9. Be aware of your background and what others might see: We’ve all see funny videos of people recording live with something unexpected happening in the background. You don’t want to be that person. Find a quiet place and be aware of my be visible behind you. Depending on the platform, you may be able to choose what others see in the background. Think about this ahead of time.
  10. Avoid distractions: If you are using your computer, close other programs so you won’t be tempted to start reading your emails or take care of things on your to-do list. Turn off your phone and be prepared to give your total attention to the service. It’s best to choose a location to watch that is free from children, animals, and other possible distractions. Pro Tip: Eat before or after the service—never during.
  11. Offer comments thoughtfully: When typing comments, remember that sometimes written words come across in ways you don’t intend. Consider what you type carefully. The same is true of spoken comments. If you wouldn’t say something (for example, an off-color story) at an in-person funeral, don’t say it at an online one.
  12. Remember the purpose of the occasion: You are there to honor the deceased and provide support for his or her loved ones. Just like it is when the funeral is in person.  It’s not about you. Keep this in mind and act accordingly.

You might be surprised to hear that live-streamed funerals have been around for at least a decade. Before the COVID lockdowns hit, however, many people were hesitant to embrace online services. Somehow it seemed too impersonal and maybe even a bit disrespectful. Since we have now become accustomed to collaborating virtually, live-streamed funerals have become not just accepted, but dare we say, popular.

In fact, offering people who can’t attend the funeral in person an alternate way to participate is a good thing. Best of all, it can provide added comfort to the family that has experienced the loss. While online funerals will never replace the real thing, we think it’s safe to say that live-streamed funerals are here to stay.

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