A Zoom Funeral

I have recently been mourning an elderly neighbour who passed away. I knew them briefly and they were sincerely part of the scenery on the street I live, so I was sad to see them go.

I was invited to their funeral through a laminated sheet of paper slipped through my letterbox, which included a short eulogy and a Zoom link at the bottom.

This I felt would be a very lucid experience and one I hypothesised wouldn’t be too unusual, since surely many of us have gone to one of these livestream funerals in the recent months.

After all, one of the cruelest parts of the COVID pandemic is that we are unable to attend large events in person, including the shocking tide of funerals that have swept our communities in the past months. It is the attempt to avoid further pain that means we must grieve in our homes, and in some cases stream the ceremonies live.

As keeping with the theme of the pandemic transforming the absurd into normal, the idea of livestreaming a funeral seemed a relative novelty before COVID. I found a few articles in The Telegraph from a few years ago that seemed to suggest a rise in funeral homes offering a streaming option to cater to “those otherwise unable to attend”.

In 2017, only 1 in 5 crematoriums even allowed the practice, but now it is a necessity. More and more, funeral organisers are waiving their usual fee for streaming facilities in an attempt to give the largest amount of people a chance to pay their respects from home.

On the day I linked my laptop through the HDMI cable into the TV, and me and my housemates watched as the bereaved family filmed the funeral from an Android phone. This would end up being the undoing of the spectacle, as the phone’s microphone compressed the audio so much that the readings and eulogies echoing in the crematorium hall sounded like pure noise.

It isn’t a good thing to admit, that most of the family streaming the funeral were probably completely unable to hear the speech and heartfelt remembrances for the loud and harsh din of the low quality video. It made wish that the crematorium had provided some sort of alternative, not unlike the parish sermons I see streamed lived to Facebook so often.

However what was even more jarring was the front facing cameras of the spectators, who were blithely watching their screens without any awareness to the fact that others could see them. At one point an elderly gentleman watching, flipped his camera to reveal he was in shorts watching the snooker. Again, another reason that crematoriums should offer some kind of private stream via a direct link (surely even an unlisted Youtube link would be better?)

I don’t want to draw attention to the things that didn’t work for some sort of lark, since I think this is a problem that someone needs to address. Perhaps a service could be provided by one of the large corporate entities that command the internet, free of charge; to facilitate these funerals in a manner they deserve.

These are the thoughts that came to me as the procession moved the coffin to the gravesite, and I think the family were just greatful that viewers were able to witness the send off. After all I think that’s the important aspect of this stream, people are just able to see the amount of mourners there are. The list of viewers in the zoom call was extensive, and I think to know you aren’t mourning alone is invaluable to those who have lost loved ones.

I was really greatful to attend and lend my condolences to the family of my deceased neighbour, honestly was a touching experience despite the technical issues. These problems are practical hitches that we are still coming to terms with in these strange times. The hope bringing aspect of this situation is that practical problems often have practical solution.

It is my hope that everyone is at least able to feel involved with the send-off of their loved ones, and these livestreams are just one way in which we have adapted to this world that can so often seem so uncaring.

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