Monday, December 28, 2009

Online Funerals

While working in the field of hospice and palliative care, I'm frequently hearing about family rushing in from out of state or even from out of the country in a time of family crisis. Sometimes they are arriving to say goodbye, but often they won't make it until the funeral. So, what if they can't make it? What if financial hardship, illness, or a very long distance prevents them from making it to the funeral? Not that long ago, the answer would have been to just send flowers or a card. As technology makes our world smaller, more options arise.

This thought came to me a few days back when I heard a story of a very interesting funeral/memorial service held online via the World of Warcraft (abbreviated WoW to the savvy gamer). The World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (a computer game to those of us who are unsavvy). Someone in California can be playing with players in New York, Japan, or Italy, anywhere in the world. Literally thousands of players can be logged on playing in the same worlds at any given time. One is limited only by ones time zone and his/her preferred times of playing. Mostly players play with a set group. There are real life friendships that form in these groups.

When one of the players died in real life, her group of WoW friends decided to hold a funeral for her in the game. It was apparently quite moving for her fellow players until a rival group of players took the funeral as an opportunity to attack. The mistake was that they highly advertised the funeral service and asked to not be bothered. Naturally the group was outraged by the attack during this solemn occasion so it made news. Strange, I know, but a very interesting idea (minus the fighting). People coming together from all over the country, maybe even the world via the internet to hold a memorial service.

Is there anything out there for those who want to attend a more peaceful service from the comfort of their home offices? Apparently, some funeral homes offer live funeral webcasts. One website I found offers package deals which includes the live ceremony (password protected to prevent lookie loos), a dvd of the service and a memorial page on their site. For a price, of course. Some funeral homes offer this as a free service and it seems to be growing in popularity. (A brief search did not reveal any in my area. I guess my funeral will just have to go undownloaded.)

While I'm intrigued by the concept, it did make me ponder what is the purpose of the funeral anyway? Are we essentially voiding this purpose by just viewing it online? Is the need that draws the grieving to a funeral fulfilled by a live webcast? (And would you really want a dvd of your dearly departed's graveside service?) It's probably a personal preference thing and would be good in a dire situation (too sick to make the funeral, deployed overseas etc.) but I don't think it could/should replace the real thing. But, who knows? Maybe one day a funeral will be just a lonely open casket displayed in front of a green screen pulled up on my Dell.

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