On 16 January I conducted an online memorial service on zoom for someone who had been living in Portugal. She was originally from Linlithgow in Scotland (not far from where I grew up myself). However, she and her husband had lived in several different countries throughout her life. So although her son (himself from New York) had organized a funeral in a local cemetery in Portugal, he was aware that many friends and family members couldn’t travel and attend. Obviously that was influenced by the continuing restrictions…. but in fact it would always have been hard for everyone to gather together in a single place.

So he looked into organizing an online ceremony that could be held shortly after the funeral itself. His research took him to a page of information about online funerals and memorials set up by my colleague and friend Emma Curtis. And that brought him, through a listing there, to my web site.

I then worked with him to devise a ceremony that would bring everyone together and include live tributes from friends and family, a beautiful poem that had been specially written for the occasion by Madi Maxwell-Libby, some moments of quiet reflection, some music and some photographs of his mother. And on the day itself, I conducted the service on his behalf.

Of course it’s not the same as all being in the same room. And of course a burial, a cremation, an aquamation…. these all have an elemental quality to them. A real and physical sense of a person’s body returning to the earth. A Zoom funeral can never have that quality. But I continue to be amazed at how powerful these web gatherings can be. One reason I think is the opportunity they offer for participation. People can speak, read poems, light candles, take part.

By coincidence, today I received an email from Obitus who provide the music at many Scottish crematoriums. They also provide live streaming of services. Today’s email listed “10 reasons why people choose to watch a funeral online”. Interesting points ranging from physical accessibility difficulties to social anxiety. There’s no doubt that during the last two years, this service has been a lifeline. But it’s a passive experience and I think that the more interactive zoom memorial is here to stay.

If you’d like to know more about what can be done to celebrate a life online then I’d be delighted to chat to you. Just contact me and we can arrange a call.

Michael Hannah, Dundee, 25 January 2022

Online ceremonies in 2022

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