Virtual Funerals and Online Memorials: How funeral homes continue to adapt to the digital revolution

Today, we are seeing more and more funeral homes adapting to the digital revolution and adopting alternative approaches such as live streaming funeral services or offering the option of arranging a funeral or cremation entirely online. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how much more important these offerings are as travel was significantly restricted, and people simply were not able to attend funeral services. Progressive funeral homes were already providing these services, but others have responded to the increased demand. 

Almost gone are the days where many funeral homes did not even have a website. When they believed that more traditional methods of marketing sufficed to give them enough business. These were the days when you chose your local funeral home because it seemed like the only choice, and you accepted whatever price they offered. However, we now live in a digital age where numerous options are at our fingertips. Comparing services and prices online has become the norm for many people, and most funeral homes have now embraced this shift. Creating visually engaging websites that provide much of the information you would have had to speak to a funeral director to attain in the past. 

Many have gone even further by utilizing the internet to offer online advertising, online directory listings, pay-per-click advertising, and utilizing social networking campaigns. So the question is, what can we expect from funeral homes in the current digital age?

The ‘Virtual’ Funeral – Webcasting & live streaming of funeral services

We live in a much more dispersed and transient society than in the past. People move around more frequently and family members are often living at great distances to one another. Therefore, the ability to stream funeral services and allow distant family and friends to participate without traveling a great distance is one way that technology has changed the funeral industry forever. This has become even more critical in the recent pandemic as people were unable to travel and social distancing was, and continues to be advised, further highlighting how such services are an invaluable asset to funeral homes. 

The cost of travel across Canada, and even more so internationally, means that many people cannot attend the funeral of a deceased family member or friend. When you add to this the constraints of needing time off work, the tightened restrictions on travel, and economic impacts, it’s easy to see why many people are not able to attend services.

There is generally a greater acceptance now of the idea of digitally streaming something on a device. Furthermore, the vast majority of people own a device that they can stream on, albeit a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone. But there still seems to be a level of discomfort about the notion of live web streaming of funerals. Some people may see it as distasteful and suggest that it takes away from the intimacy of a traditional funeral service. Personally, I can see that there are both pros and cons to this new technology. I can see the need for the live stream to be secure and password-protected to prevent unwanted viewers from intruding on an incredibly intimate event. But I do believe it is a great way to allow grieving family or friends to participate still when they cannot be there in person.

How does a virtual funeral work?

In simple terms, video equipment is set up to video the funeral service, linked to a computer and software that enables the video to be live-streamed.  In most cases, the webcast is password-protected, so only family and friends provided with the password can access the streaming.  The webcast will usually remain online for 30 days so that family and friends who could not participate in the live stream can watch it, or people can re-visit the ceremony.  

However, there are now companies that specialize in offering virtual memorials, such as Virtual Memorial Gatherings who offer four event types to best suit your needs:

  1. Virtual Funeral/Memorial Gathering – Everyone participates online from a location such as home or office that is convenient for them.
  2. Hybrid Funeral or Memorial Gathering – A group of people will be in one physical location such as a church, chapel, funeral home, or cemetery. Other speakers and guests can participate in the event or watch the event online.
  3. Live Stream Funeral or Memorial Gathering – All of the program components will be broadcast from one location and online guests will watch and listen.
  4. On-Demand Video – The entire program is pre-produced and a video is made available for friends and family to watch.

Arranging a funeral or cremation entirely online –without ever visiting the funeral home!

Although webcasting is still not something that is regularly offered by the majority of funeral homes, it is becoming more prevalent to see that it is possible to make funeral or cremation arrangements entirely online. More funeral homes and cremation companies are offering the ability to plan and arrange services ALL online, without ever needing to visit the funeral home. This has become even more prevalent since the Covid-19 pandemic prevented people from going to the funeral home in person. This online service can be seen to be more frequently offered for those wishing to arrange a direct cremation service or a basic funeral. Could this become the norm in years to come as the funeral industry adapts to the change in the way people like to have the option to do everything online?  Today, more families are comfortable with making online purchases, and I anticipate that making direct cremation arrangements online will become part of a funeral home’s service standards in years to come.

Visit our Resources to get tips to help you find and plan an affordable direct cremation.

Online Memorials, Obituaries and the Facebook Life Memorial

Another change that has taken place over the years is in the way we see obituaries. Newspaper obituaries are becoming less common as online memorials have become far more commonplace. These are either offered by funeral homes as part of their service or can be purchased by companies such as Forever Missed and Tributes. Virtual Memorial Gatherings, for instance, offer an online obituary on their site as part of their service. 

Many people are also now using their own Facebook page to create a life memorial, choosing this platform as a means to commemorate their loved ones. It is not unlikely that we will see another shift in the industry of online memorial sites in years to come as we continue to adapt to technology and online platforms.

It is easy to see how technology continues to reshape the funeral industry as we know it. Only time will tell how technology will further revolutionize our death care rituals and the way we approach the concept of death and memorialization. Hopefully, this article gave you some insight into ‘the online funeral’ and all that it entails.


Written by

Andrew joined the team at Canadian Funerals in 2017. He heads up the content management for the website.