Last year I did a lot of work on how to conduct a funeral or memorial ceremony – a celebration of life – on Zoom. At the time I was surprised at just how dignified and moving such an occasion could be. We normally think of Zoom as being for work related meetings or just chatting with friends, but these online platforms are very flexible and over the months of lockdown, people have been incredibly creative in how they use them.
But the threat that funerals might be stopped altogether never materialized in Scotland. Numbers were reduced but attended ceremonies did continue. So the Zoom alternative didn’t take off here.
Work never goes to waste though. Late in December I got a call from a colleague, Carrie Thomas, a Humanist celebrant working in London and the south east. Carrie had been asked to conduct a Zoom celebration of life. This had been prompted by the spread of the new COVID variation and the risks to mourners of gatherings and travel.
The two of us had chatted a lot about this and we’d always felt that it really needs two people to run a successful web ceremony – one to speak, to be the actual celebrant conducting the event. And one to be in the background guiding the technical side of things. So I agreed to be technical support in this case.
Over the last year I have become quite used to hosting Zoom calls. I regularly host them for informal discussions by local celebrants. I often use Zoom to “meet” the families I work with. I catch up with friends on Zoom.
But it’s very nerve-wracking to do it for something as meaningful and important as a funeral. There are so many things that can go wrong – so many factors outwith our control. Thankfully it went as well as we could have expected.
And putting this service together reminded us of some of the flexibility that the use of Zoom affords us: the chance to use treasured photographs and slideshows creatively, the opportunity for contributors to record their words in advance, the option for an online “wake” after the main ceremony.
And of course the central fact of being able to bring people together from all parts of the world. I was in Dundee, Carrie in London, the funeral director, Jo Williamson of Albany Funerals, in Kent and attendees from all over England and far beyond. There were none of the restrictions on numbers that we would have faced in a crematorium and we had complete flexibility on timing thereby allowing family members from Australia to be present with us.
Thank you Jo for having faith that we could put together something fitting for this lady and her family, and thank you Carrie for asking me to help you carry it out.
Michael Hannah, Dundee, 11 January 2021