Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Attending a funeral via Skype

What they need on their side:

  • a lap top, tablet, or iPad with Skype installed
  • a good internet connection at funeral home, portable internet for cemetery
  • depending on device, any additional equipment to be better seen or heard
  • power supply and perhaps extension cord
  • someone willing to carry you around, park you in a good place, and check on you from time to time
  • someone who will introduce you and will welcome the other mourners to interact with you

What you need on your side:

  • whichever device gives you the best picture while using Skype
  • a headset if needed
  • a good internet connection 
  • tissues 
  • a glass of water or tea (or something stronger)
  • an extremely good reason why you couldn't be there in person 

We started from the viewing. I felt like it was my own viewing with people peering down at me not realizing that I was live and then getting a shock when I moved and said hi. We were positioned in a U with my mother receiving first condolences with me on her right placed on a stand at the foot of my father's casket. my sister and her family stood at the head of the casket opposite me. This configuration worked very well as I could see and hear all the nice things that were said to my mother and she could direct the visitors to me and then to my sister.

Attending a funeral service or viewing via Skype, you get a very distinct one-on-one experience with each and every mourner which is intense, but then after awhile you can just observe. Not too many people will bother you after that leaving you free to mourn in your own way. You can disconnect your microphone and even your camera or move out of range if you need a moment of privacy. This way you only need your game face on for short bursts of time and then you can return to your default face. Many of you may not know that I suffer from a severe case of BRF, so my default face naturally set into frozen shock, so still that some people didn't realize I was on a live feed. That was mixed with intermittent off-camera crying jags when people just assumed I had gone to the bathroom.

When attending funeral services via Skype, you cannot avoid people you don't want to interact with if they really, really want to talk with you. It's like the worst family reunion ever and is one of the downsides. They can just scoop you up and get right in your "face". It's the virtual version of your weird cousin backing you into a corner to tell you about the lady at work he thinks is his girlfriend, but he is actually stalking . It's not as if you can escape to the bathroom. Well, actually you can escape to the bathroom, and it'll be really comforting because it'll be your own bathroom where you can wash your face and regain your composure. You can, out of camera view, send a message to your sister to come and save you. She won't actually save you, and after seeing who is monopolizing you may send back the message "sucka!",  but you can always try.

Another downside of attending funeral services via Skype is that you cannot interact with someone who doesn't want to talk with you - good for them, not so good for you. It's not as if you can chase them down. Well, you could but you don't want to abuse your holder. You can only try to will that person telepathically to join you from across the room. In my experience, it doesn't work, but you can give it a try. Perhaps your powers of telepathy are stronger than mine. You will not be able to force your sister to talk to you. You will not be able to escape your ex-fiancé you haven't seen in 18 years or his mother who keeps repeating how beautiful you are. (Actually, I am touched that they came.) Worst of all, you will not be able to hug your mother.

You are at the mercy of the holder. When you want to say your good-byes, you have to politely remind your holder where to direct you. Prepare to see a lot of ceilings, floors, and a lot of fingers, chests, and crotches depending on the height at which you are parked. I was parked for most of the viewing on a planter, so at eye level with my mother when she was standing. Later I was seated on a chair, hence the crotches.

Prepare to hear the same things over and over again. I found them comforting not annoying - So sorry for your loss. Your father was a wonderful man. It's wonderful you could make it. Isn't technology amazing? Couldn't get a flight, huh?

Be prepared for people to think you are uncaring for not attending the funeral in person. Don't explain how you spoke to your father a few hours before his death. Don't tell them that you were planning to visit at Easter. Don't mention the fact that "I love you" was the last thing you and your father said to each other. Don't tell them that your mother wants you to come later when things die down. Just tell them the truth, in my case that there were no flights to get me there on time and that my eight-year-old is ill. Apparently, no flights at Christmas and a child sick with pneumonia are sufficient excuses for the few people who did ask for an explanation. 

The whole experience could be improved and the funeral director plans to make some changes. The best option would have been if I could have watched a live stream from a camera or two and then used Skype for interacting. The funeral home was quite large, and they stream to other rooms so there's no barrier to streaming to a long-distance mourner.

Remember that at different points of the event you may be too loud or too quiet for others. The older folks may have a problems with where to look, where to talk, etc. Be aware that sounds you make may be amplified. Disconnect the microphone if you need to blow your nose, sob, or talk to someone in the room with you.

If you are interested in memorializing the event, learn how to take a screenshot prior to the event.

Use holders that you feel comfortable with and who are comfortable with the technology. I didn't have a problem with this at all as a few first cousins stepped up to help with one providing all the devices and getting everything prepared. Thank your holders now and later for their assistance. I am forever grateful.

Attending funeral services via Skype will help relieve the feelings of disappointment and guilt that you may have for not being able to be there. It allows friends and family to express their sorrow to you in person. Most importantly it gives you the opportunity to participate in the rituals of death and departure. Taking part in the viewing, religious services, grave side services and the wake if possible will help you. It will relieve some of the shock, help you come to terms with the reality and to start to think about your new reality without your loved one. You certainly want to be there to support your family members, but be a little selfish. Use the opportunity to get what you need from the experience.

My father had a huge turn out at the viewing Friday evening and the funeral Saturday morning. He was a member of several "old fart" organizations as we always called them plus he served in the military and was a devout Catholic. The priest was fantastic. He welcomed Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He said things such as - I know you are waiting and hoping to wake up from this nightmare. And - For those of you who are not Catholic, know that the church was an important part of the deceased's life and that your presence in his church for his service honors him.

One of the speakers at the viewing, however, went too far saying it is not important how we live our lives, good or bad, we shall all go to heaven if we accept Jesus into our hearts. Another group led the mourners in saying the entire rosary, something most of us could have done without after 4 hours of heavy mourning (3:00 a.m. for me). The only person who would have appreciated the rosary was my father, a fact not lost on us. 

My husband who is not American commented on the functionality and practicality of the viewing. It usually works something like this. Your loved one is on display a day or two prior to the funeral. Sometimes the casket is in a separate room and mourners can close the doors and take a moment alone. Sometimes the casket is in a large room where everyone mingles. Some families do both. It may be a peculiar thing to say but my father looked very nice. He looked like himself. He died on Sunday so my mother had him dressed in his formal church outfit. He had his rosary with him, a military flag, pictures of all of us, his favorite hat, and a letter from my niece and nephew. The family had a private viewing a few hours before the regular viewing. After that my family basically stood for 4 hours welcoming a steady stream of mourners. This gives people a chance to express their sympathy and say good-bye in a more personal environment. For the family, it amortizes the mourning process, allowing you to have more time with your loved one and the visitors than just at the funeral where there really isn't time to talk.

Lots of people declared their willingness to step up and help my mother get through this. My father who was one of eight children had an estranged brother and sister. They hadn't spoken for years, but they were there. I thought my mother-in-law would have mercy and call me, but that hasn't happened.

The day after my father died, I got a post card from him from our favorite breakfast joint with an invitation for breakfast with him. Today, we got our last mail from him - our Christmas cards. I guess I am not handling it all very well.

11 comments:

czarownica said...

Thanks for sharing. The viewing is a great idea, indeed.
I think you're handling it perfectly, considering the circumstances. Take care.

Joy said...

So sorry to hear about your loss! It's always difficult to be sooo far away when things like this happen. At least, technology did allow you to be there. All the best in the New Year!

Justyna Lomot said...

I'm so sorry about your loss.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for your kind words. Gotta keep moving. And gotta get our New Year's bigos on the stove. It's a Pennsylvania/sauerkraut/New Year thing.

Chris said...

Not anonymous - me, Chris!

Anonymous said...


I am very sorry for your loss.
I don't think there is such a thing as a "very good way" of handling this. You are doing the best way you can.
Frequent reader, MariaAgdalena

Edi said...

Chris,
I am very sorry for your loss.Take care and all the best in the New Year.

Chris said...

Thanks. I am starting to come to terms with the new reality and get over the shock.

Isa B. said...

You should write books... ;-)
Be strong. Though we were never close friends - if you ever feel like talking - you've got my number.:-)

Chris said...

Thank you Isa. I appreciate your support.

Maybe I should write something, but where to start?

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