Don’t Postpone Grief: Livestreaming funerals

Suzette Standring
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Grief is on pause, but it does not have to be. By necessity, funerals are sparsely attended or postponed. Currently, there are 510,777 Covid-related deaths. In 2019 a total of all deaths in the U.S. was 2,854,838. (Note: 2020 statistics are not released yet). This means millions have been unable to mourn together and to have closure, which the ritual of a funeral brings.

Now livestreaming a funeral is gaining in popularity, and I attended my first on-line service when my friend’s father died. With a 16-hour time difference between Australia and Massachusetts, I clicked on the link and suddenly, I felt like I was seated at the back of the church.

There, the physically present were few due to Covid protocols, but on-line watchers, like myself, attended from New Zealand, the U.S. and other places. When my friend Annie took her seat, she turned toward the camera and nodded, as if she saw me. It felt personal and bonding.

Last year, I lost loved ones whom I wasn’t allowed to see before they died. Funerals and travel were restricted. In early 2020, hasty Zoom memorials were held, but I got locked out when numbers exceeded the Zoom limit. Once David and I drove three hours to Connecticut from Massachusetts to honor a 91-year-old friend. There was no wake or funeral, just a graveside gathering where I gave a short eulogy to 12 people, and drove right back home.

So the livestreaming from Australia was comforting. I heard Annie’s beautiful eulogy and I marveled at her dad’s  grandchildren share heartfelt memories. “A Bridge over Troubled Waters” ended the funeral on notes of triumph and lasting love. So satisfying.

I never knew Annie’s father, so why was I moved to tears?

First, it allowed me to support her and to remember my own friends who died in Covid isolation.

Unexpectedly, the livestreaming funeral became a stand-in for my own grief and lack of closure for my other friends, too.

Gathering to grieve is a deep need and livestreaming funerals is growing in the U.S. 

Funeral director Jed Dolan, age 51, is a fourth-generation owner of Dolan Funeral Home in Milton (MA) and recalled the funeral of an elderly man last summer. Here, a rabbi livestreamed traditional Jewish prayers to the man’s family in Florida. Afterwards, Dolan helped grandparents in Florida talk to their grandchildren in Massachusetts on an iPad to share the importance of the Jewish prayers and how the children’s presence was both necessary and meaningful.

Dolan said, “It was a really important teaching moment for that younger generation to understand why they were here and how much it meant to the older folks who couldn’t fly here even if they wanted to.”

The human heart needs to mourn with others. The livestream funeral from Australia greatly soothed my spirit. 

Afterwards, I texted Annie, “Best funeral ever!”

L-R: Lisa Smith Molinari, Suzette, and Annie Barr when Annie visited from Australia AND cooked dinner in Feb. 2020 before pandemic restrictions.

This column ran in The Patriot Ledger and nationally through Gannett on 3/6/2021