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Facebook, MovieMaker connect grieving families

SUMMARY:  Churches can help grieving families use the Internet and other digital tools to make a difficult time easier and more meaningful for everyone.

Even etiquette guru Emily Post recognizes e-mail as a proper way to offer condolences initially to a grieving family member or friend. The digital world permeates our communication, even during times of death or serious illness.

The younger generation, in particular, usually feels more comfortable grieving and memorializing in a digital world. Interest in online memorial pages and live-streaming funerals continues to grow so the entire community can come together, unrestricted by geography.

Your church can help families learn about the opportunities and connect in the digital age.

Have a point person. 
Provide direction for families interested in taking advantage of the digital ways to grieve and remember. Have the pastor or funeral director explain some of the options and ask if the family has a tech-minded relative or friend willing to assume the digital responsibilities. Your church could assist by providing a one- or two-page outline of the digital opportunities and the basic steps that the family’s point person could use.

Connect by cell phone or e-mail groups. 
Gather cell phone numbers or e-mail addresses of those the family wants updated about funeral or memorial service plans. Texting is an easier and less-intrusive way than individual phone calls to keep everyone informed—as long as the family agrees to texting. Use texting judiciously (no more than twice during the planning process, and only for simple questions) and strictly for planning. Phone calls are better to offer ongoing sympathy and support. 

Facilitate online memorials. 
Online memorial sites can include photos, life milestones and other information about the deceased. Invite friends and families to post their memories and condolences. Many funeral homes, newspapers and church websites provide templates to create online memorial sites. You also can use Facebook. The family’s tech person or a church designee can create a memorial as a Facebook “fan” page. Friends and families who use Facebook can join the page and share thoughts, photos and other memories. One caution—only those with Facebook accounts can access the page, so you probably do not want to make it the only online memorial.

Turn picture easels into videos. 
Many families put together photo collages to share their loved one’s happy memories and moments with others. Have easels available, but add a digital touch. When possible, arrange with the family in advance to get the photos digitally or have prints scanned. Put together a quick PowerPoint or video(you can create a template so it is easier to use each time). Add music, quotes and captions. Here are guidelines to creating video.

Have the family’s tech-designee use PowerPoint, Windows Movie Maker or other easy-to-use programs so the family can arrange the photos, choose the music and make the video collage to their liking.

Deliver or e-mail a copy to the funeral home — and bring out your monitors or screens at the church, too. The video could play continuously in a separate room so people can watch it before or after the visitation or service. The presentation also can be burned to disc or e-mailed to family members.

Record the funeral. 
Some families who have relatives or friends who cannot attend the funeral or memorial service may opt to have it streamed live on the Internet or recorded for later playback. If you have a video camera, sound system and Internet access, you can offer this option. No Internet access? You still can record the service, and upload the file later.

Think in times of serious illness, too.
Digital opportunities also can help families share updates about a seriously ill loved one. CaringBridge is a free service that offers an excellent way to create a website easily where authorized people can post updates about the patient and friends and families can post best wishes. Privacy options are available.