Virtual Memory Circle: For Those Who Cannot Gather for a Funeral or Shiva

coral colored stone with the word remember on it

This is a facilitator’s guide for anyone who would like to facilitate an interactive, virtual memory circle for those who cannot gather for a funeral or shiva. It is not a full funeral—it’s designed to support people in remembering together. If anyone would like me to facilitate a virtual memory circle, please email me at heather.a.paul@gmail.com. Clergy are welcome to participate to learn how.


When I die, give what’s left of me away
to children and old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
cry for your brother walking the street beside you.
And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
and give to them what you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved,
and if you cannot give me away,
at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind.

You can love me best by letting hands touch hands,
and by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn’t die, people do.
So, when all that’s left of me is love,
give me away.

—Merritt Malloy

We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of ________ , loving [spouse/sibling/grandparent/etc]. My name is _______, I am _______. Thank you for trusting me to hold this space today.

The time of mourning is complicated, filled with emotions and memories, both bitter and sweet. It’s even more complicated in a moment like this one—gathering in digital space instead of in person, where we could touch and hold one another. This isn’t how you imagined saying goodbye. This isn’t what you wanted for ______. You lost _____, but you also lost the chance to honor [his/her/their] memory with a meaningful funeral. [If they’re Jewish, add: There isn’t a word for funeral in Hebrew. The word is levaya, which means “accompany.” I’m sorry you do not get to accompany one another or the soul of  _____ in person today]. I’m sorry we are gathering this way. A screen is not the same. But love doesn’t die, even when people do. I hope you can feel each other’s presence, and feel the love that _____ had for each of you, and I hope that when you can gather in person again, you will have many opportunities to remember [her/them/him] together.

We will begin by sharing some memories of ________, feelings about [his/her/their] death, or anything else that’s been on your heart in this week (or longer) since _____ died. I will guide us through a series of three questions for our shared reflection and we will take some space for silence. We will conclude with [a poem/prayer/song] that was meaningful to ______. If they were unable to offer one, choose one you like.

[If this is a large group, offer the following guidelines: Can we agree to hear each other with compassion and to only listen when others are speaking? Can we agree to confidentiality? Can we agree to keep this space sacred by addressing each other with respect? Then note that people can speak for x minutes—dividing up the time—and that you will give them a 1 minute warning by holding up your finger].

Whomever is ready may begin. What is one of your favorite memories of ______?

Say thank you after each person shares. When the last person has shared, say:
Thank you for helping me get to know ______ by sharing your memories of [him/her/them]. I’m grateful to have learned about [his/her/their] [list a few qualities you heard]. It sounds like [she/they/he] was [share a few things you learned about this person].

Next, I invite you to share how you’re feeling right now.

[Say thank you after each person shares. When the last person has shared, say:]

We will take some time for silent reflection. I invite you to plant your feet on the floor, take a deep breath, and close your eyes if you feel comfortable, or cast your gaze downward.  During this time, I invite you to use all five senses to bring _______’s memory to your heart. What did [he/she/they] smell like? What were [his/her/their] eyes like when [he/she/they] looked at you? What was it like to hug _____? Can you imagine [his/her/their] voice? What would they be saying if they could speak to you right now? We will take two minutes for silence. I will call you back with a poem. Set a timer for two minutes of silence, minimum.

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;

when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

________ did not simply visit this world. The memories you’ve shared today are a testament to the way ______ lived, loved, and embraced [his/her/their] life on earth, as well as the way [he/she/they] loved each of you.

A final question for reflection: Please share one trait you admired in _______. What is one way you can honor [his/her/their] memory by bringing that trait into your own life in the days and weeks to come?

[Say thank you after each share. When everyone has finished sharing, say:]

Thank you for keeping _____’s memory alive by living as [he/she/they] did, by [reflect back some of the things you heard].

We are coming to our closing moments together. I know that many more memories will be shared in the days and years to come, but if anyone has something else they’d like to share now, you are welcome.

[Say thank you after each share.]

[If Jewish, invite everyone to join for Kaddish Yatom].

Thank you for trusting me to honor _____’s memory with you. I will close by sharing [poem/song/prayer], which was meaningful to ________. It’s hard to know when to leave digital spaces, so after I finish, I will say thank you. That will be your cue to leave. I will stay on for a few minutes afterward if anyone would like to speak with me. This [poem/prayer/song] is called _______ [Play or share].

[If Jewish, say Zichrona/o Livracha, may his/her/their memory before for blessing. And let us say Amen].

Thank you everyone. Goodbye.

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