Digital Funerals in Times of the Coronavirus

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The Decision
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Digital Funerals in Times of the Coronavirus

Digital Funerals in Times of the Coronavirus
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Words by:

Tracey Wallace

Illustration by:

Ethan Silva

Words by:

Tracey Wallace

Illustrator:

Ethan Silva

Contents

When someone you love dies, often one of the hardest parts of the experience is when things seem to go back to normal for everyone else.

The folks who showed up at the funeral and brought hover food and sent amazing cards and flowers –– they all go back to their regular lives.

But not you. Your life is forever different. There is no such thing as going back to normal. You have to find a new normal, and that often takes years.

Right now, during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and around the world, no one is going back to normal. At least, for the next 6 weeks. The world isn’t moving on. Life has stopped.

And this throws a whole new wrench into a normal grieving pattern. What do you do when folks:

  • Can’t attend the funeral
  • Can’t congregate at your home
  • Can’t bring over casseroles and their community to help bring brightness to a home that is missing one of its most important people?

In the United States, most cities are under a 10 person gathering limit. Bars and restaurants are closed, or only offering take-out. The only places seemingly functioning as usual are grocery stores, hospitals, and funeral homes.

But the word “usual” here means only that these businesses are open.

  • Grocery stores are packed, and putting in place policies to only allow a certain number of people in at a time.
  • Hospitals are getting more and more crowded, checking people’s temperatures at the door before anyone can come in.
  • And funeral homes –– well, they are setting up digital funeral options for families so folks can honor their loved ones even if they can’t be there in person.

What is a digital funeral?

A digital funeral is a funeral that is live streamed online or recorded in some way so that folks not in attendance physically can still participate.

This isn’t an entirely new practice with the arrival of coronavirus. In fact, you’ve not only seen this before, but probably participated.

Kobe Bryant had a digital funeral, to an extent, with the event being live streamed for fans around the world. Remember that amazing speech Vanessa gave?

Digital funerals aren’t only for the famous, though. They are popular options for family members and friends who can’t leave their homes or hospital beds due to illness or physical limitations.

“There was no question we wanted to do the remote [viewing], to make sure that [it was] something that [was] accessible if somebody was sick or if somebody couldn't make it. I think that’s really important. If one person listened then whose life she touched, that's enough,” said Natalie Levy to Wired, recounting planning her mother’s funeral. “Just knowing that people were able to participate ... I felt good about that.”

How to Host a Digital Funeral

It’s likely that most funeral directors in the United States right now are getting trained up on live-streaming funeral equipment similar to how some organizations in the US are having to learn how to work remotely.

There are many funeral homes, though, that have been doing this for years. Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Services in Columbus, Ohio, for instance, is considered one of the most progressive funeral homes in the country.

“It’s important that people still have rituals around loss right now,” says Randy Schoedinger, CEO of Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service in Columbus, Ohio.

“For our clients, we are encouraging them to have small, family-only gatherings now –– and live-stream those. Then, when all of this is over, we will help them set up a larger event at no additional cost. Our goal is simple: help people maintain a ritual and to honor the lives of those they love.”

They offer live-streaming funerals, of course, as well as a variety of other new options in the death care space, like memorial diamonds and celebration of life ceremonies.

“The newest innovation in funeral service, webcasting, allows everyone you love to attend your loved one's service,” reads their website. “A webcast is viewed live over the Internet, archived for delayed viewing, and can be downloaded to DVD for a permanent keepsake.”

So, if you are looking to set up a digital funeral for friends and family outside of 10 people, here are some actionable steps to get you started.

1. Speak with your funeral director.

Funeral directors have done and seen everything –– even though the coronavirus is novel and offers new challenges to us all. Live streaming a funeral, however, is not new for most of them. Most funeral homes and directors you work with will be able to set this up –– and probably even recommend it –– for you.

"We want to do everything possible to help reduce the spread of this dangerous virus, and the reality is that arranging a cremation online is very easy," said Ashley Newton from Alterna Cremation.

"We have made this process to be easy while retaining the same high-quality level of service that the residents of Winnipeg have come to expect from Alterna Cremation. If there is anything else that we can do to help our clients get through this difficult time, they only have to ask."

So, ask about it!

2. Let people know.

All of our feeds are full of information about coronavirus. Yet, the best any of us can do is to focus on our individual lives. In that way, paying respect to someone and attending a live-streaming funeral is helpful –– both for grieving the loss of someone, as well as grieving the loss of normalcy.

"Let people know about the digital funeral. Include a link to where it will take place in the obituary, or on the memorial website," says Schoedinger.

In fact, at this time, and to make sure that everyone has all the information they need, it is a good idea to create a memorial website.

3. Create a memorial website to give people an outlet.

Memorial websites are becoming more and more popular alternatives to obituaries. In these difficult, pandemic times, they are helpful places to collect memories, form a community-feel, and make sure folks have all the information they need.

Don’t worry –– creating a memorial website doesn’t have to be hard.

In fact, some funeral homes, like Schoedinger, will do this for you. You can also use services like Ancestry.com, or InMemori.

4. Decide on a memorial, and let folks participate.

We don’t know how long this quarantine will last. Some say 6 weeks. Some say 18 months. Fostering a sense of community is important for everyone right now, and especially so for those grieving.

Memorial options like a memorial diamond give you a 7-10 month long journey, as well as monthly pictures and videos of that journey to share with friends and family (And soon, on dedication pages, no less!).

In non-pandemic times, these updates help folks to start legacy projects, talk about the life of the person they love and not the way they pass, and ultimately help families and friends to incorporate the person into the next chapters of life in meaningful ways.

In times of pandemic, the community aspect of this is even more important. The monthly updates give people regular reminders that things are continuing to move forward, that transformation is possible, and that our collective remembering and honoring of those we love is the most important thing we have.

Conclusion

Times are tough right now. The best any of us can do is bring brightness and a sense of community to these difficult times. The world does not stop when your loved one passes, and neither does your need to honor and memorialize them in the way they deserve.

Use live streaming options to host a digital funeral, and find a memorial that helps everyone in your circle rally around a remarkable person.

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Illustrations by Ethan Silva. Ethan is the founder of Bad Lucky Studio and a freelance graphic designer and illustrator who has been working with Eterneva for more than a year. His work helps bring levity, beauty and understanding to grief through design. Written by Tracey Wallace. Tracey is the head of Brand Marketing at Eterneva.

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