Arranging and leading funeral ceremonies for a little over 20 years, has meant that I have met this week with a little apprehension and disquiet, as I've gone digital. I feel very safe with my printed notes, and they’ve never really let me down.
I’ve been steadily moving towards becoming a little more techno-savvy for some time and I could see the many advantages of doing so. I have realised for some time, that it would make me more efficient and perhaps more effective in my communication with families, Funeral Directors and crematoria. I also understood that from a business point of view, there would be advantages – economically and ecologically. I would save on ink and paper at the very least, but also time, space and it could make for a smoother presentation.
In the light of the rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID–19) pandemic and based on the national guidance, operational experience and best practice, there have been unprecedented steps taken concerning funeral ceremonies. Those steps have had a direct bearing on how funerals have taken place. The removal of service and hymn books from chapels - Not allowing the option to leave the curtains open at the committal - Closure of waiting rooms - Ministers and Celebrants being asked to influence the content of funerals by reducing service times - Chapel Attendants wearing disposable gloves - restriction of mourners to close family only (in some cases to as low as 5) - Some crematoria have even taken the decision to cancel ceremonies altogether.
Whilst I completely support some of these measures, I have struggled to reconcile the prospect of denying at least the immediate family the opportunity to say farewell to their loved one. I also take issue with the suggestion that families may instead, look forward to an opportunity to come together to celebrate the life of their loved-one at a later date. This is essentially asking people to put their grief on hold indefinitely – and as a grief therapist, this does not sit comfortably with me at all; it’s inhumane in that it denies us some of the fundamental characteristics of what makes us essentially human. Grief needs that moment of commendation and farewell.
Alongside my colleagues at Holding Dear Support Services, it has been really important to have a contingency plan in place, especially if ceremonies are not allowed to go ahead, and to include other mourners who are unable to participate, to do so through other means. Many crematoria offer webcasting facilities, but of course, there are some that do not, and furthermore, webcasting would not usually be available at graveside ceremonies.
It seemed to be the right time to make some bold decisions.
1. Family visits taking place remotely using, WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype or Zoom.
2. Switch to using iBooks to create ceremony transcripts via iPad. No more paper or ink required. Also, allowing me to quickly transfer transcripts to Funeral Director’s and crematoria should the need arise due to sickness, etc.
3. Setting up accounts with 3rd party media services so I have close links with ordering music, webcasts and visual tributes.
4. Setting up a Pro account with Zoom, allowing me to live stream ceremonies to up to 100 participants and in contexts that would otherwise be unable to offer this facility.
5. Offering to video a ceremony and sending a link so that family members have access to it through WeTransfer and have a copy of the service for keeps.
6. Creating a private chapel environment for online ceremonies that are live-streamed to families when services at crematoria have been cancelled. Allowing family and friends to participate by speaking about their loved one or reading a poem in the usual way.
7. Offering a more sophisticated means of remembering a loved-one through video and photographs and music.
With careful planning, rehearsal and due consideration, this has been rolled out this week and… all is well. Most importantly, the families I’ve served have really appreciated it.
“Dear Steve, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for the way you listened to us and engaged with us at our Skype meeting. We were worried that nan would not get the send-off she deserved – We needn’t have worried. You helped us to remember nan beautifully and in very difficult circumstances. You helped everyone feel like they were there. Some said they had forgotten they were watching the service from home.” – Jane Mottershead.
Need I say more?