Friday, August 21, 2020

Funerals important to rural communities but restricted during pandemic; writer shares his experience with a Zoom funeral

Funerals are important community events, especially in rural areas, allowing friends and family the chance to to say goodbye to their loved ones and support each other through a difficult time, as Donna Kallner wrote for The Daily Yonder in May.

But funerals can help spread the coronavirus; two funerals in rural Georgia in early March did just that, turning southwest Georgia into a pandemic hotspot. With restrictions or bans on funerals (along with other public gatherings), some Americans are turning to the same piece of technology that helps them work at home to help them mourn together.

Jeremy N Smith recounts his experience attending a funeral via Zoom in a recent piece for Slate: "I had no idea what to expect. That phrase—'Zoom funeral'—sounds so tacky and degrading. Who would come? How would it work? What would people wear? Would we be gathering respectfully to mourn a loved one, or slouch on our respective couches, alone together, arguing with other family members at home about how to position the phone, tablet, or laptop screen, with the cat mewling to be fed?"

But Smith logged in, wearing a suit and tie but no shoes, and saw his great uncle Larry, who had died of covid-19, on the screen in a closed coffin at the mausoleum. His uncle's son, his spouse, and the rabbi (all wearing masks) were the only ones there in person and the rabbi sat more than six feet away from the couple. More than 50 households joined the service, talking among themselves as they waited for the service to start, like at any normal funeral.

As different family members shared stories and read Scripture, "I laughed and cried, embarrassed but grateful that I could get up and grab a roll of toilet paper when my scant supply of tissues ran out," Smith writes. He marveled at the fact that, through this Zoom funeral, he was able to meet a host of second cousins he had never been introduced to, "virtually but very much face-to-face, and in the intimacy of our living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and home offices instead of a more alien public setting. Close enough to see the books on one another’s shelves, the art on our walls, and the photos on our mantel. Close enough to meet each other’s eyes."

In some ways, a Zoom funeral might be better than the traditional service, Smith writes. He doubts he would have been able to attend his uncle's funeral in Florida under traditional circumstances, but "here I was home and with Larry—and at the homes of my extended family. The Zoom funeral left me feeling much more connected to everyone involved—and to everyone else who has lost a loved one during this pandemic. And it made me appreciate the ways technology like Zoom can make clearer our shared experiences—how it can literally show us all the other lives—and deaths—happening one 'square' over.

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