With most countries across the world under lockdown due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, live-streaming funerals has hit an all-time high globally. In South Africa in particular, people are turning to virtual funerals as a way of paying their last respects to their loved ones.
With most countries across the world under lockdown due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, live-streaming funerals has hit an all-time high globally. In South Africa in particular, people are turning to virtual funerals as a way of paying their last respects to their loved ones.

Spike in virtual funerals in SA during Covid 19 pandemic

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Jun 8, 2020

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The idea of live-streaming a loved one’s funeral on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube might come across as strange or even as a shocking idea.

But more and more families are turning to social media to virtually attend a loved one's final farewell.

With most countries across the world under lockdown, because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, live-streaming funerals have hit an all-time high globally.

In South Africa, a maximum of only 50 mourners are allowed to attend a funeral.

Elite funeral group The Sonja Smith says more and more people are interested in taking funerals online.

“We started with live-streaming a few years ago. But there’s been a drastic increase in the demand since lockdown,” said Sonja Smith, the managing director.

In the past two months the company has planned several small funeral ceremonies for families which were live streamed.

“These funeral services were live-streamed worldwide, and were recorded and available for viewing afterwards.”

Smith’s funeral group charges R2000 and upwards for a live-streamed funeral.

“You’ll get full live-stream, with possible chat functionalities (people from all over the world can connect via live chat on desktop computers), photo and bulletin integration, recording of the funeral service, personalised touch, and a first-person virtual experience with a live production including up to three camera angles.”

While Smith says live-streamed funerals are helping families and friends get some sort of closure from the death of a loved one, not being physically present at a funeral could cause severe feelings of guilt and post-traumatic stress.

“Holding a dying loved one’s hand and spending time with the body after death helps us absorb the reality of death and begin to experience the pain of loss.

“If people are deprived of this important goodbye, they will continue to grieve.”

Her advice to family and friends who have a loved one on a deathbed, is to make use of technology to enjoy the final hours of a loved one.

“Wherever possible, try to use technology to communicate. Face-time video calls are used by some doctors in America during a dying patient’s last hours, during which the family can say goodbye.

“Zoom is also a good option, as well as voice messages. Write a letter and ask the nursing staff to read it to the dying patient.”

Andre Malan, a professional videographer in the wedding and tourism industry, was forced to find other ways to generate income due to the lockdown.

He started Sharing Goodbyes, a company that focuses on providing its clients with funeral live-streaming as well as professional and creative funeral videos.

“Our background is actually the wedding and tourism industry but because of lockdown regulations, we realised travel and attendance numbers would be a major obstacle for families and friends to attend a loved one's funeral,” said Malan.

“The global pandemic made speaking and talking about death and funerals easier, and at the same time we were all forced into looking at other avenues to generate an income.”

Sharing Goodbyes offers its clients a single view live-streamed funeral broadcast on YouTube. It also offers a multi-angled funeral video with a cinematic introduction that clients can take home to watch.

Since lockdown started, Sharing Goodbyes has averaged around two to three funerals a week.

“Due to various risks we associated with streaming, our main product is a professional video of each funeral. The cost for this is R4500 for two hours' coverage.

“Live-streaming is available as an add on for an extra R1500. We offer a high definition (1080p) stream on YouTube with a dedicated sound microphone for each service.”

Malan says the biggest challenge that comes with live-streaming funerals is network coverage and availability.

“During load shedding the quality of network connectivity is reduced.

“Clients overseas sometimes have issues with time zones and prefer just waiting for the edited version to watch at a time that’s convenient for them.”

Malan believes, however, that live streaming funerals has proved effective in helping families get closure from losing a loved one.

“We can attest from families we helped that it does help with the grieving process, especially those family and friends who cannot travel.

“Being able to view the funeral live or on a video gives one a sense of sharing in the grief of the family.”

With most countries across the world under lockdown due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, live-streaming funerals has hit an all-time high globally. In South Africa in particular, people are turning to virtual funerals as a way of paying their last respects to their loved ones.

Local streaming company EPNET say it too has seen an increase in demand for live-streamed funerals from potential clients.

“As our main market has been for conferences (we use expensive broadcast equipment), the majority of people cannot afford our prices.

"But enquiries have certainly increased tenfold,” said Gordon Barker, the director.

The company has cut its costs during lockdown and offers live-streaming funerals at a more affordable price thanks to high demand.

“The live-stream gets sent around the world and to people who have been restricted by attendance regulations.

"People who have the internet can view from their homes just using a browser window, and no special software is required.

“The advantage to this is that they get a closer picture of the burial as the camera is more close up than most people at the event would be able to see.

“A recording is made and handed over to the family for later viewing.

"Response condolences from the virtual audience can also be collected using a live chat screen.”

Barker believes live-streaming funerals will soon become a normality in South Africa and the rest of the world.

“Live-streaming a funeral is becoming more and more popular over time, and now with the Covid-19 outbreak, it has become a catalyst and has accelerated our business, not just with funerals but weddings and business meetings as well.”

The Saturday Star 

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