The internet keeps us more connected than we have ever been before. Whether you’re chatting to an old friend who lives halfway round the world, or saying hello to family who are on vacation, it’s never been easier to log on and catch up with the people you love.
Now funeral homes are asking how that same technology can help when it’s time to say goodbye. Across the U.S., funeral homes are introducing live streaming technology so that mourners who are unable to attend the funeral can still watch the service.
Live streaming, also known as webcasting, allows you to watch live video footage over the internet. From major sports games to political debates, live streaming is an increasingly popular way for people from all over the world to experience an event live from their own homes.
As the technology becomes more commonplace, opinion is still divided over whether or not funerals should be live streamed, with some people worried that online attendance will replace people paying their respects in person.
In recent years a number of high-profile celebrity funerals have been live streamed, including Muhammad Ali’s funeral which allowed fans around the world to mourn when it was broadcast in June last year. The service itself welcomed 20,000 people to the KFC Yum! Center in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, while online mourners were estimated to total hundreds of millions.
Country star Crag Strickland’s funeral was also live streamed for fans to share in his last farewell. Thirteen-year-old YouTube star Caleb Logan Bratayley’s memorial service was broadcast on Facebook Live and Periscope, Twitter’s live streaming app. Fans commented: “Caleb loved the Internet. He would want it to be this way.”
In an open letter, rockers Motörhead urged fans to join in Lemmy Kilmister’s last farewell when it was live streamed in January 2016. It read: “Wherever you are, please get together and watch with fellow Motörheadbangers and friends. Go to your favourite bar, or your favourite club, make sure they have access to an internet connection and toast along with us. Or simply invite your pals around and celebrate Lemm’s life at home.”
Over a quarter of a million viewers logged on to watch Lemmy’s funeral.
Although these celebrity live streams are open for the world to view, companies like One Room provide private live streaming, where mourners are given a specific code or password to access the live stream. This means that no one can ‘snoop’ on private funerals.
David Lutterman, CEO of One Room, believes that funeral live streaming is a vital service that can bring people together.
“If reasons such as cost, distance or health prevent people from attending the service in person then webcasting is used as a way to include them,” he says. “The remote mourner can view the service live or whenever they are able to, from any location.
“Access to the service is important for grief resolution and it also creates a more inclusive sense of community. Friends and family often comment how important it was to have the option to see the service.”
Public opinion is divided though. Commenting on a piece in the New York Times back when the technology was relatively new on the scene, readers labelled the idea as “tacky” and “crass”.
“Technology has become a wonderful thing,” said one commenter. “But there are some things technology isn’t meant to interfere with, funerals being one of them.”
Other readers disagreed and pointed out that in a society where families may live hours apart, or even on the other side of the world, the internet is how they connect and grieve together.
“Cyberspace can serve to strengthen family bonds in a fluid, globalized world,” said one reader from Manila, Philippines. “A Filipino family I know lost their father. For several weeks after, all the family would ‘meet’ for about 30 minutes daily (from four different continents) to pray the rosary for their father and engage in a bit of family chit-chat – all through live video streaming. Since some of them were working night or afternoon shifts, they were able to do this despite the fact that they were living in five different time zones.”
Another commenter said: “I know someone that used the webcast recently for her husband’s funeral, and people from all over, folks that were sick or elderly, could feel a part of the love and also the grief, and support the family.”
“We think it is more respectful to include everyone who wishes to pay their respects than to limit this option only to those who can attend in person,” David says in response to accusations that live streaming is in poor taste. “This is a very important ceremony. In this age of connectivity it would be weird to hear and see nothing of it.”
David suggests that far from being a flash-in-the-pan fad, funeral live streaming is here to stay and will continue to grow in popularity.
“The generation of digital natives have grown up consuming video on demand and it is simply an expectation that this option will be available to them,” he said.
“We have such a short time to acknowledge and celebrate the life of our loved ones. It is important that they are remembered and that their community has the opportunity to be part of that remembrance. The story can be shared and safeguarded; everyone deserves that.”
Talk to your funeral home for more information about live streaming a funeral for your loved one.