Imagine losing a loved one, but you’re living on the other side of the world and are unable to attend the funeral. In this era of the internet, missing a funeral because of long distance no longer has to be.
Over the past decade, funeral homes have seen a rise in services being broadcast online, allowing those to participate even though they can’t be there physically. In Baltimore, Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc., has been live-streaming services over the past several years.
“We started off in the late ’90s or early 2000s recording funerals on CDs,” says Matt Levinson, the company’s vice president. “We’re always trying to enhance our services and stay on the forefront of technology.”
When people first hear about streaming the funeral service, Levinson says they are typically “thrilled” that it’s offered. He gives every family the option of using the service.
“[Those who cannot attend] feel relieved that they’re able to watch and feel a part of the service,” Levinson said. “We’ve received great feedback, and I know many people watch them; the overwhelming majority opt for the service.”
In fact, Levinson estimates that less than 5 percent of families choose not to use live-streaming, noting that there’s no extra fee to use the service and that it is an option for anyone who uses the funeral home’s facilities.
“Technology has changed and people have realized that webcasting is something that people want,” he said. “If they’re living out of town, they want to be a part of the service. Now with this technology, they’re able to. It makes sense for funeral homes to offer it.”
Live-streaming funerals has become fairly common in the last several years, according to Stephen Kemp, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association and owner of Kemp Funeral and Cremation Services in Southfield, Mich.
“The trend started about five or six years ago,” Kemp said but had its genesis before streaming technology became ubiquitous. About 10 years ago, he said, many families began videotaping funerals to share with absent loved ones afterward.
“Families have become less nuclear,” Kemp explained. “Children may be working out of the country or living on the West Coast and they still want to see the funeral. So, it started with taping and then went to live-streaming, where people can log on and watch the live funeral. They can share the experience without incurring the cost of traveling and still share in the grieving.”
The only downside of streaming funerals has to do with issues of privacy, according to Kemp.
“You have to tell people who are there that you are live-streaming,” he said. “Some people are paranoid about being seen, so you have to make disclosures.”
Rabbi Steven Schwartz, senior rabbi at Beth El Congregation, says that in his experience, the service has always been welcomed.
“I know it’s been a real comfort to families,” the rabbi said. “Families will often go back and watch the service. People will tell me that. Levinson keeps the videos, and I know that families who were at the service will go back and watch it on the site.”
Susan Needle Vitale of Farmingdale, N.J., told the JT that her experience with the service was positive.
“We were just devastated by [my aunt’s] passing, and when we heard that the funeral was being streamed, we arranged to watch it together at my mother’s home,” she said. “I went to a funeral home and I was able to get a memorial candle and a black ribbon for my mother to wear. We watched the funeral together as if we were there. After that, it felt like we were even sitting shiva together.”
However, during her second time using the streaming service, Vitale noted that some things didn’t come through as clearly as she would have hoped.
Most notably, “the camera was set far away so that I was not able to see any faces or facial expressions, which is part of the communication that takes place at a funeral,” she said. “But I did hear the rabbi’s sermon and thought it was beautiful. I didn’t feel the connection that I would have felt had I been in the room, but I certainly felt connected to my cousin, and that’s what I wanted to feel.”
In a testimonial on the Levinson website, Debbie Cress of Hagerstown, Md., called the service a “mitzvah.”
“My mom had extremely close family from Israel, Vermont, New Hampshire, California and New York, and all watched the funeral live,” Cress wrote. “When I got home that night, everyone had left a phone message about what a beautiful and moving service.”
Levinson said that technology has had a massive impact on the funerary business over the last decade and a half. Namely, having an active, up-to-date website has changed a lot for the Levinson brand.
“Before our website, people had to rely on the newspaper to find out funeral information and details,” he said. “Now, we’re able to update our website in real time. We have thousands of people who check out our website every day. We have thousands of people who get a daily email every morning with a snapshot of our funeral schedules so they don’t miss out on a friend or family’s funeral.”