The global pandemic is forcing us to find new ways of doing things that we have routinely done for centuries. One of the most wrenching is how we must now commemorate the passing of our loved ones. In my case, the non-COVID-related passing of my sister Alane last week. As it turns out, I was the only one in our family—which is spread across the country—who had the mindset and skills to put together an online memorial. I’m certainly not the only one in the last few months that had to quickly hustle up a Zoom memorial while dealing with friends and relatives who ranged from clued-in to clueless about technology.

A significant family missed the memorial. Afterward, someone asked if I’d forgotten to invite them… I wanted to scream! Short of stalking, I did everything I could do to get them online for the event:

“Did you and your caretaker get the Zoom link for Alane’s memorial?” I ask.

“Yes,” they reply.

“I sent it to your caretaker, too,” I say. “She got it, correct?”

“Yes, I’m not sure what to do,” they say.

“Zoom allows you to call in, at the very least,” I explain.

“Oh, so it’s a phone call?” they ask, as my hidden exasperation rises.

“Yes and no. It’s visual and also audio. Your caretaker is a millennial; she’ll know what to do, and I’ve been texting her.” Indeed, I had started texting the caretaker as soon as I’d set the date and time. I called, emailed, and texted daily.

The day before the memorial, I found out the caretaker was too embarrassed to tell me that she had no idea what Zoom was. I forgot how some people are so massively isolated that things we take for granted don’t exist in their world. Now wholly flummoxed, I got permission to call my relative’s lawyer to see if he could bring them down to his law firm to have them watch the memorial there. The lawyer would have been amenable to it but was out of town. And as it turns out, this relative—who is solidly in the at-risk group—is so out of touch that they don’t even have a mask.

Meanwhile, I spent three days sorting through hundreds and hundreds of old pictures of my family. It was healing, moving and occasionally delightful. As I neared the end of the sorting, I noticed there were barely any pictures from the 1960s. And then I remembered: we were in the infamous 1972 killer flood in Rapid City, South Dakota—one that residents there still talk about. Although I’d salvaged and cleaned many pictures a few days after the flood, apparently, I’d neglected to save the ’60s pictures and memories. On the other hand, as some people say, “if you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t really there.”

My hubby, Ken Gruberman, isn’t called the Tech Daddy for nothing. I gave him the photos I’d selected and the direction I wanted, and he made the tech and music miracles happen during the memorial. I’m very proud of what we produced, including a poignant 10 1/2-minute photo montage of Alane’s life. But more importantly, the people who attended were grateful and touched.

“…attention must be paid,” says Linda Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Alane’s life needed attention once it ended, and so do your loved ones. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I’m here to urge you to do whatever you can to make an online ritual, ceremony or gathering happen. If you don’t, I predict you will regret it: their lives deserve recognition after their passing, pandemic or not. And that doesn’t mean you can’t do something live down the road!

I have some tips for you:

• Create something online as soon as you can. If you’re not up to it, find someone in your various circles who is. Get as much help as you need.

• Design and outline the proceedings, including an ending time.

• Pay attention to who will have a hard time getting online and help them make arrangements. I enlisted help for Alane’s husband, Paul, who had arranged for him to watch at their house, so he could just be there and not worry about anything.

• Have something musical

• Include pictures of their lives

• If the person was religious, invite someone from their place of worship to either attend and say something or get coaching from them.

• Have a “host” who is not too shy to direct the proceedings, and mute people when necessary.

• Finally, when it’s time to share, give people more time than feels comfortable to raise their hands. People are reliably shy about talking, whether it’s in person or on camera, and it takes them a while to unmute and pull themselves together. I recommend that the host know ahead of time at least two or three people who will want to speak and call on them first to get the personal anecdotes going.

I am glad I didn’t listen to naysayers who were cynical about the idea of a virtual memorial. While the ideal is to be together in real life, the digital version was still meaningful and gave Alane the attention she deserved.  


Ellen Snortland has written Consider This… for the Pasadena Weekly for decades. Reach her at ellen@beautybitesbeast.com