The social lockdown imposed upon us, due to Covid-19, has meant that Zoom funerals have had to become the norm. But it isn’t the same, is it?
I recently attended the funeral of a friend who died suddenly, completely unexpectedly.It was an exemplary affair –tragic, serious, with full respect and honour paid to the deceased. Those in actual attendance spoke movingly, sincerely, there were many tears, some rueful laughter, for the deceased was amarvellously sociable and humorous man – much loved. Watching from home, we wept and smiled too, as our friend came to life in the words and music of the attendees in the crematorium.
But – attending a funeral from one’s own home, staring at a computer screen, dressed in casual clothes and alone, or maybe with one companion – is entirely different from the experience of being immersed, with others, in the atmosphere and experience of a true funeral. It’s all negatives: no physical contact, embracing, hand shaking, reaching out to others…… None of that oddly stiff experience of sitting in a pew amongst others, hankie pressed in one’s hand, no solemn acceptance of the intolerable moments of funerals, the entry of the coffin, the emotivemusic, the atmosphere, those moments of waiting, the rustling…..we are viewers, not participants.
And again, sadly, the Zoom funeral is, can only be, a truncated experience.It only allows a view of the ceremony, and the appearance of the mourners and officials entering and leaving the church or crematorium. For there are two essential aspects to every funeral: the ceremony itself, and foregathering of the attendees, family, friends afterwards. This second stage to a funeral is anvital element. Almost all funeral ceremonies end with an invitation from the conductor of the ceremony to join the familyin a get-together nearby. This established tradition is to enable the family and mourners to speak together, offer sympathy – express emotion. Most importantly, it enables mourners to exchange stories, memories and anecdotes about the deceased, to build a live and feeling picture of the person lost. This is creature comfort. These post-funeral events are all about that. We all know that gradually, at such events, the atmosphere will gradually change: people will begin to warm to each other, some laughter, some headshaking, and smiles. We try to offer the bereaved stories about the deceased. Often, for the bereaved, those anecdotes from others, will betreasured long afterwards.They are proof that the person lost to us is not, in fact, lost completely, because memories will step in to comfort those bereft. In some cases, funerals will end in an atmosphere of genuine celebration of the deceased, aided by food and drink and shared emotional sorrow.
Zoom funerals can’t supply this relief from tension. Nothing is drearier to the spirit than rising from the computer screen where, for 40 or 60 minutes, one has been bound in a tense emotional rapport with the funeral party. Suddenly, it is all over and there is nothing to do but wander dispiritedly into the kitchen to put the kettle on. It’s lonely, unsatisfactory. We have been robbed of the huge warmth and the change of mood of post-funeral gathering, where we offer comfort to the bereaved, to each other and derive comfort ourselves from the kindness and emotions of others. We need and crave that to feel human again.
The funeral I watched recently was immensely touching, offering, through the words of the mourners a vivid picture of our friend, and also offering glimpses of things we hadn’t known about him. Altogether it was worthy of him. We felt privileged to have been allowed, at least, to observe the ceremony from home. And, of course, the film copy of that touching ceremony is available for the family who could not be there. We can also promise ourselves that as the rigours of the Covid-19 lockdown recede, there will be many deferred gatherings to honour the dead and to bring friends and families together at last.
One of the most parroted truisms of the human condition is that which claims, “We are always, essentially, alone”. That may be true. And there is nothing like a Zoom funeral to bring that cold message home to us.