With travel severely curtailed and nearly all gatherings restricted, arguably one of the most negatively impacted aspects of this public health emergency is the expounding grief for friends and family members who do not have the ability to travel for bereavement and memorial services.
On March 16, 2020, The Centers for Disease Control held a conference call with key stakeholders within the bereavement community, including National Funeral Directors Association, and reiterated the importance of limiting any gatherings to under fifty people, as well as a strong recommendation to live webcast funeral and memorial services so that loved ones can say goodbye without attending in person.
Obviously, this got our attention. We received emails and social media comments about how hard it is to experience crushing loss when people cannot physically come together with loved ones. Though grief is often a lonely road, the gathering of friends is one of the few sources of comfort.
Funerals and memorials remind us we aren’t alone in this loss. They allow us to look around at all the lives touched; to share the memories and stories that will be a small light in the dark days ahead. Funerals give us a time not just to reflect the life lost, but also of the legacy that remains. And for some people, funerals are what makes the loss finally feel real.
What makes the current situation even more complicated is that the proposed alternative – to live webcast funerals – is unchartered territory for many people and professionals alike. What does it even mean to live webcast a funeral? There are questions of logistics and technology. And there is the question of whether a webcast could really capture what we are losing by not being together in person.
We want to try and help navigate this situation. But in order to do so, we need to answer some of our own questions about webcasting funerals. We started by hitting up our friend Tim Treanor of OVS Media. OVS Media was one of the first companies to specialize in the live internet broadcasting of government and non-profit content — they’ve worked with everyone from Marriott to NASA to the CDC.
By the time Tim and I talked about this last week, his wheels were already turning. He was quick to explain that live internet broadcasting has emerged as a mission-critical platform for global communications during this time of mandatory quarantine, but that he and his team agree that “one of the most important things to explore is that funeral and memorial services need to start being webcast live over the Internet”.
See, he’s a grief-friend for a reason. Tim and his team are actually busy making the case for the government providing large-scale funding for these services, which would be pretty fantastic. But, knowing the government has a lot on their plate the moment, and that people are in need of help now, he graciously agreed to share some of his expertise with the WYG community.
Our first question is more of an observation. In reading comments on our Facebook page, we were heartened to see incredible stories of about technology. It is clearly bringing some people together for funerals and memorials. Unfortunately, we also saw difficulties and frustrations.
One of our readers shared this of a friend’s funeral, “his funeral was broadcast online, but the person who shared it forgot to put the password with the post”, leaving people unable to tune in. Though many are familiar with FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Live, and Zoom, I imagine a lot is left to chance or missed when families set up streaming on their own. What are some of the common problems or technical issues you see when people set this up on their own?
“To start with, I think we have to sort of define what we’re referring to as ‘webcasting’ versus some of the other technologies out there,” Tim said from his office in Washington, DC.
“Apps like FaceTime are great for having a conversation with a single person, and things like Google Hangouts are better for maybe up to a dozen people. For up to twenty-five or so, Zoom and a few of the so-called ‘webinar’ services can work well, but really if you’re going to have more than say twenty-five people or more watching live and participating in the ceremony, then you need to start looking for a professional with live Internet broadcasting experience.”
Another reader shared, “The funeral of a dear friend was invitation-only in order to comply with maximum allowed at a gathering. It was also live-streamed. Watching from home, was okay insofar as seeing the tribute. It was lacking in the opportunity to connect with others and share stories and memories”.
For most families who are streaming or people watching, I imagine this can feel like a bit of a one-way broadcast, not allowing for direct connection or storytelling. Do you think this is an unavoidable limitation of creating virtual funerals, or as a professional in the field do you see ways to create more connections?
“There is no substitute for being with others physically to share in grief,” Tim said, “and it would be wrong-headed to promote webcasting or any other remote service as a kind of replacement, but by live-streaming the eulogies and other elements of the funerary service, we hope that we can help convey a real-time sense of comfort, and a way to acknowledge the passing of a loved one, and by extension perhaps a sense of closure.
So it’s not a substitute to attending in person – rather at its best it an effective platform to gather the friends and families and other stakeholders to convene in a live television experience for those who are geographically dispersed a professional alternative to physically gathering as possible, given the current conditions.”
We were so touched to read the experience of one family, who found new ways to connect. They shared, “we held our grandma’s funeral through a Zoom meeting. Just her 4 children and their spouses could be at the mortuary for the service but all the grandkids and their families were online.”
“We were able to participate by singing together (although not all in tune) and some cousins gave prayers and played the piano virtually. It was a difficult time to try to plan a funeral but I’m glad we were still able to do it and honor her good long life. At the graveside we used FaceTime to participate in the dedication of the grave. While none of this was ideal I am grateful for the technology that allowed us to “be together” despite the circumstances around us.”
Clearly families are already getting incredibly creative and finding ways to create that sense of connection, despite challenges. To families considering a virtual funeral (or the social workers and funeral directors helping thing) what are your biggest pieces of advice or creative tips?
“A live webcast won’t be nearly as comforting as a being in person and onsite, but it can still be a great way to celebrate the life of someone dear to us in our own ways. Our biggest advice is to remember ‘live is live’ and live internet broadcasting has dozens of points of possible failure along the way that can make any event go sideways technically.
You need to make sure the technical aspects of the live webcast have been walked through first, before the event if possible, to minimize points of failure and reduce the technical risks. There is nothing more stressful during a live event that is experiencing real-time technical difficulties both for the organizers of the memorial service and the viewers trying to participate live online. Nobody wants to be installing drivers or dealing with audio issues or bandwidth constraints or the myriad of other technical problems during the actual memorial service.”
Last but not least, if someone want to reach out to OSV directly, whether it be to help with advocacy around funding funerals, or to look into streaming for funeral homes, churches, or families, where can they find you?
“To learn more about live internet broadcasting please visit us at www.ovsmedia.com. We can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (202) 509-9795. We hope we can be of service to those who are experiencing loss. And hopefully, someday live internet broadcasting will be a commonplace platform for people to share and comfort during a time of grief.
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