The Internet has reshaped almost every aspect of our lives, including the way we share information, grieve, and memorialize our loved ones. With families becoming more geographically dispersed and more than 50% choosing cremation over traditional burials, new online options have emerged that reshape how we commemorate the lives of our loved ones. Online memorial sites can bring us to together, even over great distances, to plan celebrations of those we’ve lost and build lasting online memorials.  

Whether you've recently lost a loved one or you're planning ahead for an ill family member, you may be wondering how to sift through all the options out there for an online memorial.  We've rounded up several options below based on what features you need.

WHICH TYPE OF ONLINE MEMORIAL IS RIGHT FOR YOUR LOVED ONE?

It really depends on what you're looking to accomplish with the online memorial, but there are several broad categories to consider first. The newest site is a hybrid of an online memorial, event planning, and crowdfunding all in one, and offers resources to make the memorial as unique as your loved one. 

GatheringUs (free) is a comprehensive funeral and memorial online platform that brings communities together after the death of a loved one. Family and friends can post a free, permanent online obituary,  organize and share information about funeral services (including tracking RSVPs and sorting out logistics), and crowdfund for funeral expenses or charitable causes. Communities can also share photos, videos, and stories, and send their condolences. Because the memorial remains online even after the crowdfunding ends, it serves as both a lasting tribute and a way to keep friends and family in contact to exchange memories, offer support, and plan future celebrations of life.

Remembering loved ones

Thinking about and planning your funeral can feel very difficult, and some people prefer not to talk about it. Letting people know about any wishes can relieve your friends and family of some of the stress of organising your funeral, and can provide reassurance to those close to you that they are celebrating your life in the way you wanted.

DO I NEED TO PLAN A FUNERAL?

You can think about it in as much or as little detail as you like, from planning every aspect to just letting people know a favourite song or hymn you would like. Some people choose to leave funeral instructions in their Will (although this is the only part of a Will that is not legally binding). Even if you don’t talk to anyone about it, make sure you write down anything that is important to you, and tell someone close to you where you have put it, so that your friends and family will be able to follow your wishes when the time comes.

IS THERE ANYTHING A FUNERAL MUST INCLUDE?

A funeral is an opportunity for your family and friends to express their grief and celebrate your life. There are no rules about what it needs to look like or include – it is entirely personal to you and those who are close to you.

People often worry about their funeral being ‘a fuss’. But your funeral can be as simple and as low-key as you want – it doesn’t need to be large or grand. In fact, you don’t have to have a formal funeral service at all if you don’t want one – although friends and family normally value the chance to come together and celebrate the life of the person they love.

People also think that they have to choose between a very religious service in a church or something with no spiritual element at all. A service at a church or other place of worship service will generally be religious, but at other places (crematorium or local venue) you can chose a celebrant who will include some religious content, or none, depending on your preference. There is no wrong or right way to do any of these things, it is about having the funeral that is right for you and the people who are important to you.

Why You should plan ahead

THE LOSS OF A PARENT OR SENIOR LOVED ONE

Polly Cummings was not prepared for the death of her husband Walter 13 years ago. Although the 53-year-old had a grim prognosis and year-long illness, she was so focused on driving him to chemotherapy and mothering her two children that she didn’t think about the time when he would no longer be there.

“It was a source of pride for Walter to do the finances, so I let him,” says Cummings. “But, when he died, I was not prepared. I didn’t know where to start. Instead of flailing around, I should have talked ahead of time to his accountant, bank and financial advisor. It made the loss even worse.”

You can chalk up her lapse to caregiver exhaustion, inexperience, and something else: our society’s discomfort with discussing death, whether it’s our own or someone else’s. Slowly, though, that attitude is shifting, thanks to 75 million “tell-it-like-it-is” baby boomers.

5 WAYS TO PREPARE FOR THE LOSS OF A PARENT

old women

There’s another reason, too: experts believe that if you address the impending loss of a spouse due to a terminal illness, or a parent’s aging, you are likely to fare better — and in the process, may give the person you love peace of mind.

“We prepare more for a vacation than we do for death and loss,” says Shelley Whizin, a certified death midwife who recently spoke on the topic at a Motion Picture and Television Fund women’s conference in Los Angeles.

Laurel Lewis, a nurse and end-of-life expert also on the program, says that “loss can be complicated. It’s not just a physical separation, but also emotional and spiritual. Usually, there’s a financial component. You are confused, scared, vulnerable and forced to make big life decisions in an altered state.”

On the other hand, Lewis notes, “If you tie things up before the loss, you can live your life more fully and the grieving process may be shorter than if you were in denial.”

When a loss isn’t predicted but is dreaded and inevitable, it is sometimes called “anticipatory grief.” Like the grief you experience after a death, you may feel anger, denial, depression, fear, guilt and sadness. The “good” part about it is that there’s time to do and say the things you want.

You can plan and you should.

flowers

Here are some ways to prepare:

1. BE GOOD TO YOURSELF.

Caregivers are always told this, but if you are able to eat well, exercise, find a place to vent and sleep, you will be in better shape to cope. Meditation, support groups, walks and yoga are also good ways to think about you.

2. CONSERVE YOUR ENERGY.

Rather than be barraged by calls and emails from family and friends seeking an update, communicate just one time. It could be a conference call or a website like CaringBridge. Another site, Lotsa Helping Hands, lets caregivers post the help they need and others sign up for duties. You might also want to create a family website and divvy up jobs. One sibling can make sure all documents are in order and have a master list of passwords, while another can research funeral arrangements, for instance.

3. DON’T WAIT FOR THE FUNERAL.

You can say all these wonderful things about the person after they are gone, but what about honoring them or telling them before? You can make a video of the people in your parent’s life talking about what your parent means to them, and share it with your parent before they pass.

4. SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY!

You want to feel that you have done everything you can for your loved one and for yourself. Do you need to say “thank you,” “I forgive you,” “I’m sorry,” or “I love you” to a parent?

5. TAKE CUES FROM WHO IS ILL.

Some people want to talk about what they’re going through or what happens after. For Cummings’s husband Walter, it was an off-limits topic. Before Cumming’s mother died at age 93, though, she talked candidly about her feelings and wishes. That put Cumming and her sisters “at peace” after her mom passed away.

Have you been through this experience or are you going through it currently? What do you wish you had done or known while preparing for the loss of a parent? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

How to prepare for death