Earlier this week, The New York Times ran a story about the video streaming of funerals online.
I had never heard of it before, but apparently funeral homes are increasingly providing this additional service. Even the esteemed Frank E. Campbell memorial chapel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan -- where mourners have paid their respects to notable figures like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, John Lennon, William Randolph Hearst, George Gershwin, and Heath Ledger -- has begun a webcasting pilot program.
Some funeral homes tack on an extra charge for it, while others provide it for free. Some families choose to keep broadcasts private through the use of password protection, while others post videos of the services without restrictions.
The webcast has proven especially helpful for mourners who unable to be physically present at a funeral. Members of the military stationed abroad find it particularly comforting to be able to view the funerals of fellow soldiers and family members.
But another, perhaps unexpected, advantage has emerged. Some of those who attend the funeral are finding it healing to view the service afterwards. The intensity of grief can compromise one’s ability to be present to every word spoken and every hymn sung. The video helps mourners appreciate every part of the memorial to their loved one.
Though some family members admit that they cannot bear to watch the webcast, others find that their grief is comforted by reliving the service multiple times.
The web-streamed funeral seems to offer the benefits of a blessing and the pitfalls of a curse. While it may offer a new vehicle for helping mourners move through the stages of grief, it also has the potential to trap the grief-stricken in one stage of the process.
While it provides a new way to participate in a love one’s final farewell, one hopes that, in time, it will not compromise a person’s willingness to be physically present with a community of mourners.
Whatever its ongoing effects, the advent of funeral web-casting demonstrates that, regardless of our technological sophistication, human beings still have a fundamental need for rites of passage. Our ever-increasing individualism has not separated us from the ancient tradition of using rituals to find meaning in the bewilderment and sorrow of death.