At a time when precautions against COVID-19 mean that large public gatherings are banned in some places and discouraged most everywhere else, how can we continue having funerals? It’s important to honor and remember the lives of our loved ones who have died, and mourning together with others who loved them is a crucial part of the grief process. We can still do this, even if we can’t get together in one place for a funeral.
Video funerals are one of the best resources for anyone who is grieving but can’t get to a funeral in person. These can be streaming, so you can watch and participate in real time, or they may be recorded so you can watch after the fact.
When 83-year-old retired Army medic Bruce Mewborne died last week in San Antonio, the Washington Post reported, his family congregated remotely to mourn and honor him:
“The only people in the chapel were Mewborne’s sons and their immediate family. One brother was assigned as the designated hugger for their mother; two others gave brief remarks and read passages from the Bible. As Jeff Mewborne stood in the chapel to mourn his father, his wife put the live stream on their living room television at home so their children could watch.”
Here’s a look at how some tech-savvy companies are transforming funeral services with video, and what you can expect if you attend or view a video funeral.
Many funeral homes already do live streaming video
Offering funeral services online is not a brand-new concept. Some funeral homes have been doing this for years, allowing people who are far away or homebound to watch in real time as services take place at the funeral home or church. Technology companies help with software and support, and all family members need to do is share a link with anyone who needs it.
Two of the companies that are making livestreamed funerals happen are Viewlogies and TribuCast. We spoke to leaders from both companies and learned how the services they started years ago are helping families get through this unprecedented time, when we can’t gather in person but need each other’s support more than ever.
Rick Rampton, co-founder of Viewlogies, explains how easy it is to attend a funeral remotely. “Our service offers a private broadcast,” he says, “so it’s password-protected. But you don’t have to log into an account and go through a cumbersome process to watch the funeral. It’s just a password-protected page that you can go to easily, type in the password, and access the video.”
TribuCast is easy to use, too, and it’s just as easy for a funeral director to set up as it is for you to watch the funeral remotely. The company’s president, Bruce Likly, says that, even if the funeral home you’re using has never livestreamed a funeral before, they can quickly get TribuCast’s service up and running in time for a funeral. “We have the funeral director download and install two pieces of free software onto their iPad, and our website shows them how to configure it and set it up,” he says. “The biggest challenge for the funeral director is finding a way to mount the cell phone or the iPad on the tripod so the image is stabilized.”
If your family is planning a funeral and wants to include a livestreaming option, talk to your funeral director about it. It may be that they already offer this service; as streaming technology improves, more and more funeral homes do. Even if they’ve never offered this service before, they may be able to make it available for your loved one’s funeral, so everyone who needs to be there can be there, even if it’s from far away.
What a livestreamed video funeral is like
The experience of attending a funeral remotely may be a new one for a lot of people, so what should you expect? If you weren’t involved in planning the funeral, you might receive an email or text from the immediate family with the link and password, if applicable. Or you might find that link included in the obituary, or shared on social media. Clicking the link will bring you to a page with a video player.
If you’re planning to watch the funeral as it’s happening, the video might not be available until shortly before the time the funeral is scheduled for. If you click the link and it won’t open, or you click “play” and the video player doesn’t start, check the time: you may need to be patient and wait until a few minutes before the funeral’s start time.
Once you click play, there may be a wait of a few minutes to allow family and friends time to get online and start viewing. When the funeral begins, it’s what you’ll see in the video player. Right now, while we’re grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and practicing social distancing, you’re unlikely to see very many people attending the funeral in person. In fact, the livestream may focus simply on the casket and the person talking, showing few if any guests.
Depending on the service that’s streaming the funeral, you may or may not be able to interact with others who are attending. Often, it will be a strictly one-way experience: you can watch what’s happening, but no one there can see you, and you can’t talk to them. But Likly notes that a TribuCast livestream can include a chat function, which you can use to offer your condolences or tell the speaker how meaningful their eulogy was.
The broadcast will probably end soon after the funeral is done. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. TribuCast funerals are available on demand for 90 days after the service date. And Viewlogies funerals remain online forever. Rampton says the families who use Viewlogies appreciate having that keepsake. While the funeral is livestreaming, he says, “they’re dealing with all the emotions of the day. They’re dealing with the people who attend, thinking about the other family members — there’s so much else going on that day. We’ve had an overwhelming response of families sharing with us that they’re so grateful to have the recording that they can go back and rewatch after the actual live event.”
Anyone can record a funeral and upload it afterward
Not all funerals will be livestreamed, even during this unusual time. Some funeral homes may not have the technological resources needed for livestreaming, and some families might prefer for the service to be small, private, and in-person. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make the funeral available to faraway friends after it’s done.
A funeral that isn’t livestreamed can still be recorded, and that recording can be placed online for family and friends to view. One company helping people with this technology is Tukios.
The company is known for providing easy-to-use video tools for funeral homes and the families they serve to create memorial slideshows. You’ve probably seen these — they’re often played at a visitation or incorporated into a funeral. They include favorite family photos showing the deceased throughout their life, and they often have video clips interspersed with the photos.
Tukios already offered technology that allowed people to easily upload their photos and videos to the internet, founder Curtis Funk explains. So it was simple to expand that and allow them to upload a recording of the funeral itself. This is even easier than livestreaming a funeral, he says: “It’s really simple; you don’t have to stress at all. All you have to do is record, without having to worry if the internet connection stays up.”
If there’s a traditional funeral service taking place, you can record the funeral service using a video camera, smartphone, or tablet. But Funk suggests taking a different approach in these unusual times: Use videoconferencing software instead of getting together in person at all. “[The funeral director] can host a Zoom meeting, invite all the family members to it, and facilitate a conversation,” he says. “It’s not going to be your traditional funeral, maybe, with a eulogy and a minister or priest sharing a message, but maybe it’s just the family remembering, sharing memories, talking.”
Whether you’ve videoed a funeral service that took place in person or pressed the record button on an online meeting of loved ones, you can then upload the recording to Tukios by visiting their website and clicking the “Test it Out” button. The link you get with your uploaded video can be shared right in your loved one’s online obituary, as well as on social media or via email. If you want to update an obituary that’s online with Legacy.com, just tell your funeral director, or contact the newspaper you submitted it to and give them the information you want to add to the obituary.
The future of video funerals
Right now, livestreamed or recorded funerals offer crucial support to everyone who’s grieving a loss while practicing social distancing. But there will come a time when we can gather together again when we need to mourn a loved one. Will video funerals still be useful then?
The answer is absolutely. Even after we get past the COVID-19 pandemic, there will always be reasons people can’t make it to a funeral. Some may be homebound with illnesses. Others live far away and can’t afford to travel or can’t make travel plans quickly enough. Soldiers are deployed overseas; students are away at college and negotiating schoolwork and exams; inmates are incarcerated and not allowed to leave.
All of these people still need to grieve when a loved one dies, and attending a funeral remotely will give them the important opportunity to grieve alongside everybody else who loved that person. Streaming technology and recorded funerals will be here to stay, long after COVID-19 is gone.