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Livestreaming Funerals Isn't Weird - It's A Vital Service For The Bereaved

19/10/2016 17:11

I wonder if, since the first human rubbed two sticks together and made fire, there's always been a resistance to technological advances. Of course, every leap of progress should be accompanied by a little caution, but sometimes it feels as though we're far too willing to miss out on incredible improvements to our lives because we do not want to leave our comfort zone.

The media recently picked up on the fact that livestreaming funerals is becoming more popular. While some newspapers tended to go with the 'kids these days' angle, generally it was presented as a well-rounded argument for and against. But just a peek into the dreaded comments section reveals that people's reactions can be quite visceral.

The word "weird" surfaces again and again, while some commenters claim that millennials will use livestreaming as an excuse to stay at home in their pyjamas rather than attend their Great Aunt Betty's funeral. "Nothing is sacred anymore", "a total lack of respect", "we have sunk to a new low," and "perfect for the idiots on Facebook" - all knee-jerk reactions to a service that these commenters don't understand.

It feels like some people believe that this is a step into a dystopian future where we all interact solely through screens and float around in those automated chairs from Wall-E. The youth of today, so the argument goes, is too lazy, too self-absorbed, too reliant on technology, and livestreamed funerals are further proof of these facts. They don't understand that livestreaming funerals is not just for the Instagram generation. It's for everyone and it can be a vital service for the bereaved.

For starters, we need to understand that funeral livestreams are not a public stream where anyone can watch, like the delightful livepuppycam.com or the fascinating International Space Station livestream. Funeral livestreaming usually works with a secure password system, with details provided to mourners before the funeral. You won't have random internet users logging on to see you wish farewell to your grandma. It's not some kind of weird voyeuristic live webcam channel. It's just between you and whoever you choose to share it with.

The other major concern seems to be that livestreaming funerals will encourage lazy mourners. Generation Y will apparently take every opportunity to stay in bed and take selfies rather than actually go somewhere.

If someone is really so lazy that they can't be bothered to come to your loved one's funeral, would you really want them there anyway? I'd rather have five mourners who really care than a whole church-full of people who wished they could stay in bed.

More importantly, this argument completely ignores those mourners who cannot physically make it to the funeral. We're an increasingly nomadic society; many of us know someone who has lived abroad. Some expats live 24 hours and many thousands of pounds away, and attending a funeral at short notice is not possible. In other cases, people who are seriously ill and confined to a hospital bed can still take part by watching the livestream, whereas in the past they may have little or no way of participating. This technology is actively helping people be a part of the communal grief that is given a voice during the funeral.


Doctors Sofka, Cupit and Gilbert
, academics specialising in death studies (or 'thanatology'), note that, "Historically, [humans] have always used our foremost technology in the service of the dead". That foremost technology could be the engineering behind building giant stone pyramids, the chemistry of elaborate embalming techniques, or in this case, the digital medium of live broadcasting. Except that this time, it's perhaps not the dead that we're serving, but the bereaved.

Indeed, among those many critical comments, you'll find a few people who have actually tried a funeral livestreaming service. Almost without exception, they all testify to it being a fantastic way of including those relatives who would have missed out on an important way to say goodbye.

Now, I'm not saying that modern technology is perfect. To a certain extent I can understand people's frustration with a generation that views life through an iPhone camera. I definitely rolled my eyes when I was in Iceland earlier this year and saw two fellow tourists eagerly taking selfies on the edge of Gullfoss waterfall, barely looking up from their screens to actually, you know, look at it.

But that's the point - the problem is when technology takes us away from important moments, when we are not mentally or emotionally present. Livestreaming funerals is the exact opposite of that. It allows people to be mentally and emotionally present for an important communal ritual when they would otherwise be completely unable to experience it.

The funeral is an important ceremony that can have a tangible impact on how a person copes with grief - a topic which I've written about extensively for Funeral Zone. It can be a vital way of acknowledging the death and beginning to process the loss. When we have the ability to share that ceremony with those who can't be there, why wouldn't we?

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