Coping with the loss of a loved one is never easy. And even if there is no funeral, you can still grieve and honor them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a shift in how people memorialize the loss of a loved one. During the pandemic, a formal funeral had to take a backseat, leaving many uncertain about how to honor their loved ones.

How can you properly grieve when there’s no funeral?

If a conventional in-person memorial service is still not possible, it doesn’t mean you can’t say goodbye. There are different ways to express your grief and celebrate your loved one without the traditional end-of-life ceremony.

The purpose of a traditional memorial service is to be together to pay respect to the deceased while sharing memories and offering support.

This is a tradition for many people, and these experiences help to facilitate the stages of grief after the loss of a loved one.

“Without experiencing these stages within a grief cycle, it is difficult to come to acceptance, and the process of grief can feel cut off,” says Carly Claney, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Seattle. “And, without a funeral, it can be difficult to intentionally replicate these experiences on your own.”

Coping with the death of a loved one is never easy. But you can take steps to grieve and honor them even when there’s no service.

Sarah Kalny, a licensed mental health counselor in Boston, suggests writing a letter to the person or journaling about them “in whatever way feels right.”

She says to jot down anything you wish you would’ve said or any feelings you may have — it doesn’t matter if they’re comfortable or uncomfortable. You can even share your thoughts in a goodbye letter.

Thinking about your loved one and facing your grief is a step toward healing. You might think you need to be strong around others, but give yourself time for your own tears, even if you’re alone. Acknowledge your pain and reach out to those who can be supportive of you.

Grief can have physical symptoms, such as pain, nausea, and exhaustion. It can help to take care of yourself by eating nutritious food, grooming, and prioritizing your sleeping schedules. Consider making time for needed self-care. Grief is hard on the immune system, and protecting your health is the goal.

There is no “normal” schedule for grieving. Everyone’s experience is different.

When an in-person funeral isn’t possible, there are alternatives for an end-of-life celebration.

Consider a virtual gathering

You can have an online memorial service for your loved one. People can take part and pay their respects from anywhere in the world.

To create a virtual memorial service, you can use a video conferencing app like Zoom or Google Hangouts. While nothing can replace in-person support and comfort, an online gathering can help you start the path to healing.

Do an activity they loved

Consider participating in an activity that reminds you of your loved one, Claney says. She suggests going on a hike or to their favorite restaurant. You can even plan a trip to a place they’ve always dreamed of visiting.

Create a virtual memory book

Traditional funerals allow you to share memories and stories about the departed. They often have poster boards filled with photos and sometimes even a video of the loved one playing in the background.

You can share memories by creating a virtual memory book on social media or a website. Each person can add their own memories, pictures, and stories, Claney says.

Consider asking people to comment on things they remember about the loved one. This sharing of personal stories can serve as a digital monument. Directing donations to a charity in the loved ones’ name can be comforting. There are templates online to help you develop the online memorial.

Set up a ritual for remembrance

A 2020 study says that rituals, such as funerals, have benefits as long as those grieving find a way to say goodbye that’s meaningful to them. People tend to value informal rituals they’ve created themselves over the larger ones because they find them more significant, according to a 2009 study.

Sarah Kaufman, a licensed social worker in New York City, suggests performing a remembrance or “mourning ritual” that has significance to you.

“It can be big or small and include other people or not,” Kaufman says. “Say a prayer, create a memory book, sing a song, plant a tree, or do something else that feels meaningful.”

Consider your spirituality

The grieving process may shift your perception of life and death. However, your spirituality may serve as a lifeboat and give you comfort in times of sorrow.

Depending on your faith or culture, you may want to explore different ways of honoring your loved one or finding closure, such as praying or lighting a candle, Kalny says.

Funerals and other rituals are all a part of the grieving process. If it’s not possible to have an in-person funeral, there are other ways you can honor your loved one. You can:

  • have a virtual gathering
  • participate in an activity they loved
  • create a virtual memory book
  • have an informal ritual of remembrance
  • lean on your spirituality

Losing a loved one is difficult, and some resources can help you through the process. Consider reaching out to a grief support group or a therapist.

If you’re looking for a therapist but unsure where to start, Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.