Many crematoria are now live streaming funerals from their Chapel of Rest, although there are still restrictions as to numbers able to attend and also social distancing is being practiced. This will mean that your funeral may be very different from the one you may have planned or thought about. Obviously this means that the normal etiquettes and comforting measures are also not able to happen which could, potentially, cause much distress at an already traumatic time, and whilst the inclusion or use of a digital service cannot overcome all of the barriers faced, it can potentially help unite people in a time of grief.
As a celebrant, I meet with the family using some form of digital technology – Zoom, Skype, Facetime etc and the usual protocols are followed. I find out as much about the deceased their life and relationships as possible and then devise a ceremony with them at the heart of it. Without a coffin, the family can put together a collection of relevant artifacts – photographs, a favourite item of clothing, something to represent the personality and interests of the deceased which could be displayed together, illuminated by a candle which was ceremoniously lit at the start of the ceremony. All relevant friends and relations are asked to log on at the set time – and this may also include those who may have found it difficult to attend in person. Key people are asked to contribute a poem or a reading or perhaps even a song as part of the proceedings, and importantly all the family can be involved in the planning. The younger, more technically minded can help and feel useful by setting up the meeting, whilst others are detailed to research and write down about the deceased’s life, and importantly others are involved by supporting the grieving. It is a time when people can come together face to face through the medium of technology. My role is to work with the key mourners to coordinate the event, as well as composing a eulogy and creating an order for the service which is then disseminated to all those involved.
Nice touches may for example include everyone wearing the deceased’s favourite colour, or a button hole, or possibly evereyone having a photograph of the deceased visible during the ceremony. They could all be asked to have some of the deceased’s favourite tipple to hand so that they could toast their life, or each be asked to share their best memory of the person who has died – the options are limited only by imagination.
On the appointed day as a celebrant it is my job to hold the space for the family and friends to grieve, offer mutual support and love and act as the MC. I unmute and bring people in on time. After the eulogy and celebration I ask a member of the family – possibly the chief mourner if they feel up to it – as a symbolic gesture to turn the photograph face down, as I read the words of the commital. This is often the most difficult moment of the proceedings and is done with as much solemnity as can be brought to bear and may be accompanied by some music chosen by the family. Perhaps everyone with a photo of the deceased could join in at this point – all turning their photos down at the same time. The candle could also be extinguished now, accompanied by appropriate wording. After this I leave the meeting, allowing for the family to comfort one another and offer words of strength and support in their own time and way.
Although may not be the funeral you had imagined or planned, it allows for family and friends to be in the same, albeit virtually, at the same time with a single objective in mind – to honour the memory of the deceased whilst bidding farewell collectively. It also allows more people to communally express their grief and support one another than is currently allowed in a public place. It can take place after a funeral service at the crematorium or cemetery at which only the immediate family were allowed – giving them the luxury of a very private farewell. Alternatively this can replace the service at the crematorium or cemetery, and the family opt for a Direct Cremation or Burial where there is noone from the family in attendance.
At a later date, when everyone is able to move more freely and meet socially, then that could be a time for a more relaxed memorial and celebration of a life well lived. This can be done at a place of the families’ choosing and could coincide with the scattering/burial of ashes for example, or on some other significant anniversary. It is another way of helping in the healing process and is an event for which most celebrants are well trained.
Nothing is able to replace the grief of parting in the current circumstances and I wouldn’t want this to in any shape or form. What it may do is enable the healing process provided by a traditional funeral and its preparation to remain, whilst giving those grieving something to concentrate their mind in those first few weeks following a bereavement.