Covid 19: Virtual services for absent mourners
Three English-speaking celebrants based in France and the UK have launched a virtual funeral service for people who cannot get to the send-offs of loved ones during the Covid-19 confinement.
Numbers at funerals are restricted and travel is difficult, so the idea is to provide a ceremony in which anyone with a computer with a webcam can participate. It is independent of the actual funeral.
The celebrants write and create a service in collaboration with the family, with the option of using photos, videos, music and readings by participants.
The service is conducted through the online meeting platform Zoom.
The celebrants from AltarNatives (altarnatives.org) are all former charity workers and normally write and perform wedding and funeral services in the UK and France.
Lara Norris, from Saint-Siméon, Orne, said she was doubtful about virtual services at first, but the recent funeral of a family member few people could attend, including her mother, made her realise this could be a way to help people grieve.
“I cannot imagine the pain of having to miss the funeral of a close relative. This is a way of giving someone an honourable send-off and something mourners can recognise as a funeral to give some comfort in these unusual times.
“We know there have been questions over the security of Zoom but we use the professional paid-for service, which has more options than the free version, and have done everything we can to make it safe.
“At the end of the ceremony, if the family wishes, we will leave a period time for family and friends to talk and send their love, as would happen naturally at the end of any service.”
Each virtual funeral will be supported by two celebrants, so there is always someone on hand to help out if anyone has technical difficulties.
The fee for a virtual service is €250 and the team say that if they live close by, they will conduct a physical memorial service, free of charge, at a later date.
The British Embassy has confirmed that close family members can travel to a funeral in the UK under the heading familial impérieux on the confinement form for use when travelling in France.
On their return they would have to fill out an international travel certificate to mainland France and tick the personnes ayant leur résidence principale en France box (website: uk.ambafrance.org/Coronavirus-Covid-19-transports-vers-la-France).
The Embassy recommends travelling with both confinement forms and travel tickets for each journey, as well as proof of residence in France for the return leg.
In the UK, there is no set number for funeral attendance but the Embassy advises anyone concerned to look at the UK government advice which says only close relatives and friends can attend.
In France, mourners at a funeral are currently limited to 20.