By Thomas A. Parmalee

With technology continuing to play a larger role in delivering products and services to grieving families, one topic that I’ve been covering regularly on is livestreaming.

I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with numerous leaders throughout the profession who play or have at one point played a leading role in this area.

In my conversations with these technology titans, a question that has come up more than once is how – or if – there’s a way to boost the number of services that are livestreamed by getting the watchers to share in the cost.

After all, it is the viewers who really get the most out of the livestreaming, and yet it is usually the immediate family – often a very overwhelmed family struggling with an unexpected death and trying to put together a service at the last minute – who generally cover the cost and also assume the stress of overseeing a well thought out service, which may not always include a livestreaming component.

On its surface, the idea makes sense … but I couldn’t figure out how it could be executed – and it’s something that I think even companies that offer this service are struggling to get their hands around. How would something like that work – and how could it be made simple for funeral homes and families alike?

Providing the service free of charge and suggesting viewers make a donation of X?

Requiring every person who logs on to view the service to pony up $20 to cover the cost?

These ideas and variations like them seemed to be nonstarters to me – and I suspect that the livestreaming leaders I’ve chatted with have concluded the same – and so they’ve continued to press their best argument: convincing families of the value of paying for livestreaming either on its own or as part of a package. This, mind you, is not a bad strategy, as the benefits of livestreaming are considerable – both for families and the funeral home.

Fast Forward

But fast forward to just a couple weeks ago, and I started to envision how perhaps livestreaming might be offered in a new way – at least as an option for those who want to tune into a service on a virtual basis when the service hasn’t been paid for by arranging family members.

My epiphany (if you can call it that) came after my aunt died and solidified just days later when my grandfather died. As anyone in funeral service knows, death often comes in spurts. Just when you think you’re picking yourself back up after getting hit in the gut, that Grim Reaper rears back that terrible scythe again.

In the case of my aunt, I very much wanted to go to the service: Her death was somewhat unexpected, and while we had not been in close contact over the most recent years, she was like a second mother to me growing up. In fact, she even lived with my family for a year or so. She was such a great person.

But sometimes, getting to the funeral is just not possible. In this case, it was a good three hours away, and perhaps more with traffic. It was held immediately after the viewing, which meant I’d have to do the return trip home at 9 p.m. or so.  While I was willing to do all of that, I wasn’t willing to leave my kids home all by themselves, nor was there anyone I could really ask for help in terms of picking them up after school on such short notice.

It gradually dawned on me that I just would not be able to make it to the service – and after that, I was left trying to tell myself not to feel guilty about it, even though I’m one of those people who always try to get to the funeral.

What I found myself wishing for at that moment was a message on the bottom of my aunt’s obituary that read something like this:

You can purchase a livestreaming package that will allow you to watch the service live for $249. With your purchase, we will also allow anyone else to attend your loved one’s service virtually free of charge. You will also receive a link, so you can view the service any time you want. To learn more and to purchase online, click here.

OK, so maybe the wording needs work … but I hope you see where I am coming from here.

As a funeral home, you don’t want it to seem like you are asking every single person who wants to listen in to a service for a fee, as it seems ripe for abuse. Even if you only charge $1 per person to listen in, what happens when 1,000 people virtually attend a funeral when you typically charge $149, $249 or $349 for the service? Whatever the price it is, you get the point.

In a profession that already struggles with how it is perceived by the public, my thought is that you simply can’t ask everyone to chip in to pay for the bill if the family does not pick up the charge to begin with as it’s simply too problematic – no matter how little you charge.

But if you give a more distant surviving family member or a dear friend the opportunity to do something nice for the entire family and as well as all of the deceased’s far flung colleagues, loved ones and associates – assuming that the immediate surviving family members have not opted to pay for the livestream option themselves but HAVE given you permission to include a carefully and nicely worded message at the end of the obituary that doesn’t disqualify a virtual service from happening, well, that is a different story.

In the right circumstances – take, for instance, someone who simply can’t make that three hour car ride for whatever reason – a single person may be very willing to pay $149, $249 or something along those lines to say goodbye to someone they love even if it’s not in person, especially if they know they might be opening the door for other family members and friends in a similar situation to do the same. Beyond those living far away, think of all the older people who may not like driving at night or those who may simply be battling a cold who wish they had this option.

Fortunately, my grandfather’s service is scheduled for a Saturday when it will be easier for me to attend. It’s still a three-hour drive away, but I plan to be there … unless of course, I run into car trouble the day before, in which case, you can bet I’ll be wishing for a message at the bottom of his obituary allowing me to tune in virtually even if it means paying a price.

Comments (2)

  • Thomas, you’ve summed up the problem perfectly, missing a service compounds grief with guilt. Access to the funeral service is so important and creative ideas like this helps all parties involved.

    David Lutterman | April 11, 2023 at 5:54 am
    • Thanks, David … I really do think this is a relatively easy fix if the funeral home gives ONE PERSON the option to pay for a virtual service by tagging on such language to an obituary and opening it up to everyone. I think what funeral homes and vendors are rightfully struggling with is the whole notion of asking ALL those virtual participants to share in the cost. It just does not come off so well. But there are certainly INDIVIDUALS, i.e. very good friends and family members who may not be paying for the bulk of the service, who would WANT a virtual option and would not balk at paying a modest fee — while feeling good about the fact that they were also making the option available to others. Make it a box that the family checks off allowing you to make the option available in simple language at the bottom of the obit — ASSUMING of course that they have not opted for it themselves. The family very well may have NO IDEA that people from far away or who may not be able to attend for other reasons want such an option. | April 11, 2023 at 10:47 pm

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