Live Streaming Funerals – Great Idea or Inappropriate?

Last year when my friend got married, I wrote about broadcasting your wedding through a video conference. It wasn’t such a crazy idea – we use video conference services now all the time. Just like FaceTime, video conferencing is being used to connect families who are millions of miles away, and we’re fine with that.

Now imagine your feelings that if you’re going through the process of planning a service for a departed loved one, and a funeral employee asks you if you would be interested in the streaming package. Curiously, you inquire to know more and the director tells you that if you have family scattered about the country, instead of missing the opportunity to say their goodbyes – now, they can be conferenced in with the rest of the family and view the services from their home. Live streaming of the funeral services could include something like this:

  • Video stream of the entire procession, invocation, and eulogies.
  • Interaction with family members through chat.
  • Invitation only or password protected services.
  • Order a CD of the services when it’s over to keep or to send to family members who were unable to attend.

Now, I know you may seem a little creeped out. I was at first when the idea was brought to me. It seemed inappropriate, morbid, and just inconsiderate. But then I thought about it in a different way.

Do you remember when Ronald Reagan died? For days on end, we were glued to our television screens to watch the procession through the Capitol rotunda, and then to the television to watch the motorcade escort the former President to his final resting location. Most of us can remember the faces that two somber little boys wore as they escorted their mother, Princess Diana, to her funeral. In fact, Princess Diana’s funeral is the highest rated funeral of all time, followed by Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan. 31 million people tuned in to watch Diana get laid to rest.

Since 1997, there’s a new technology that makes watching news coverage of events easy – live streaming. (PDF) MSNBC reports that their streaming of Michael Jackson’s funeral service was greater than that of the day President Barack Obama was inaugurated. So what does this say about how likely we might be to accept the streaming of funeral services?

We have no problem tuning in on our televisions or at our desks to watch an idol that we admire be laid to rest. Clearly, the numbers prove that. So why then does the thought of streaming a funeral of someone we truly knew and care about seem tasteless or wrong? Last year, my dear grandmother in South Carolina passed away very suddenly, and there was no way I was going to be able to afford to fly out with that short of notice. (Don’t let bereavement discounts fool you, folks, it’s not that much). Sadly, I had to miss her funeral and the opportunity to say goodbye, or see my family.

What if there would have been a way for me to join the services virtually? Would I have taken the opportunity? I’m not sure if I would have or not – despite the fact that I have watched the coverage of a number of funeral services of famous people, I’m still hesitant on if I would want to see that with someone who was personally near and dear to me. That’s probably just because it’s such a new idea and something that I don’t think we see a lot of. If we were to take part in the live stream of a video conference of a funeral once or twice, we might feel differently about the perceived inappropriateness.

Considering we watch funerals on mainstream media for people we don’t know, what drawbacks do you have to joining a funeral for a friend or loved one in a virtual set up, if you have any? Does this seem like a strange or outlandish idea to you? Let me know in the comments below – maybe we can figure out some situations in which this would work and some that it wouldn’t.

Thanks to Troy Claus for getting me thinking about this. I was a little surprised when he first mentioned it, but once I started to think about, I wondered what the difference between watching the funeral of a stranger on TV is between watching a friend or relatives services on your laptop.

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