Grieving from afar – adapting funeral rites and rituals in COVID-19 times

Mourners have been left in a state of emotional anguish, as strict social distancing regulations restrict attendance at funeral ceremonies. Can technology offer support during these unprecedented times?

COVID-19 has displaced our lives. Restrictions on funeral gatherings, since the lockdown in March, has limited the number of mourners able to physically attend a service. Clinically vulnerable people are still advised to remain shielded, removing any opportunity to attend a funeral in person even if they are close family.

Most mourners are expected to stay away from funerals. At times this has proven too much for some, leading to a flouting of social distancing regulations. It is understandable mourners can become overwhelmed with emotion, but funerals should not become unsafe places to say a final goodbye. Balancing the need for a meaningful funeral ceremony, whilst
preserving safety, is a delicate balancing act.

Despite a gradual easing of restriction across the four nations, it is unlikely a full return to pre-coronavirus times will happen in the near future. Across multiple sectors, remote working has enabled rapid adaption and the generation of new ways of working. Now the time is right to imagine what this could look like in the funeral sector.

Live streamed funerals opportunities

Thankfully, modern technology has stepped in to offer the option of a live streamed funeral. Live streamed funerals involve the broadcasting of a ceremony over the internet using audio visual equipment. Families are provided with personal login details and a password, which are shared with mourners who are invited to the ceremony.

Videoconferencing technology e.g. Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook Live, YouTube, provide large numbers of mourners to safely attend a funeral ceremony. As COVID-19 continues to linger, funeral directors are increasingly offering live streamed funerals to protect self-isolating mourners, whilst upholding social distancing measures.

In pre-pandemic times technology has offered mourners, both far and near opportunities to attend funerals at distance. Though this has largely been a choice, as opposed to necessity.

Technology can never replace the warmth and comfort of a hug, or shoulder to cry on but it can offer both a sense of connection and ceremony. A recent report by the London School of Economics recommended live streamed funerals as a way to support people dealing with death and bereavement during COVID-19.

It would appear live streamed funerals are to become part of societal adaption to COVID-19, though is it really all so easy?

Personalisation and Meaning

Without careful and sensitive consideration of the role of technology, there is a danger live streamed funerals may become too uniform. Evolving into nothing more than manufactured acts, devoid of real meaning to support the healing process following a bereavement. Furthermore, mourners are more likely to accept live streamed funerals when ceremonies maintain symbolism.

At the heart of every funeral must be the deceased, any displacement removes the opportunity to celebrate their uniqueness and life. Traditionally live stream funerals have been perceived as passive affairs, only allowing mourners to watch the service but not to actively participate. Leaving mourners feeling further away from their loved one, negatively impacting on their psychological health and prolonging the grieving process.

Fortunately, the plethora of video conferencing applications enable mourners to play an active role in the ceremony, supporting feelings of connectedness and emotional support. Mourners are able to share stories of their loved one, deliver eulogies wherever they are located in the world.

Digital platforms e.g. Vimeo, Memories.net enable funeral ceremonies a huge degree of personalisation, from the inclusion of images, life timelines, videos to music it really is possible to accommodate a wide range of personalised, meaningful ceremonies in the digital world.

What we are doing?

Whilst the impact of COVID-19 continues to limit funeral ceremonies, we are striving to utilise technology to support mourners to celebrate the lives of loved one.

Established in 2011, Fuze Ceremonies established a not for profit organisation (Fuze Foundation) serving the needs of society, whilst promoting social justice. We are primarily concerned with alleviating funeral poverty, enabling families experiencing financial hardship to provide a bespoke and dignified funeral for their loved one.

We are currently conducting a national survey investigating bereaved people’s funeral experiences during COVID-19. The data we gather will be used to inform our own funeral ceremony offering, ensuring we provide reliable, cost effective and meaningful funeral services for everyone.

If you have recently attended a live stream funeral, we would ask you to consider completing our online survey. You can access the survey HERE.

References

Bear et al. (2020) ‘A good death’ during Covid-10 pandemic in the UK: a report on key findings and recommendations. Available from: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/104143/ (Accessed: 11 June 2020)

Dowling, T. (2016) Live streamed funerals: the rise of the virtual mourner. The Guardian, 3 October. Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/24/may-have-virtual-funeral-still-privilege-attend2/ (Accessed: 09 June 2020)

Hadfield, C. (2020) Devastated family left in tears as live stream of mum’s funeral crashes. Echo, April 28. Available from: https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/devastated-family-left-tears-
live-18157222 (Accessed: 10 June 2020)

Jones, H. (2020) Gun fired and arrest made at chaotic funeral which flouted lockdown rules. Metro, April 25. Available from: https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/25/gun-fired-arrest-made-chaotic-funeral-flouted-lockdown-rules-12609233/ (Accessed: 10
June 2020)

Proctor, K. and Syal, R. (2020) UK funeral directors may stream burials of
coronavirus victims. The Guardian, March 17. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/17/uk-funeral-directors-consider-streaming-burials-of-coronavirus-victims (Accessed: 10 June 2020)

Rudgard, O. (2017) Rise of the live-stream funeral: half of venues can now
broadcast services online. The Telegraph, 2 May. Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/01/rise-live-stream-funeral-half-venues-can-now-broadcast-services/ (Accessed: 09 June 2020)

Selby, J. (2020) Coronavirus latest: 150 people flout lockdown rules to attend funeral
where motorbikes cause chaos. Inews, April 18. Available from: https://inews.co.uk/news/coronavirus-latest-150-people-flout-lockdown-rules-funeral-motorbikes-chaos-419810 (Accessed: 11 June 2020)

Waller, J. (2020) Daughter’s heartbreak after online stream of mum’s funeral crashes. GrimsbyLive, May 12. Available from:
https://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/news/local-news/daughters-heartbreak-after-online-stream-4106337 (Accessed: 09 June 2020)

Warrender, C. (2020). Celebrants harness technology to offer virtual funeral services. The Courier, May 11. Available from:
https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/fife/1316641/celebrants-harness-technology-to-offer-virtual-funeral-services/ (Accessed: 09 June 2020)