COVID-19 Crisis: Virtual Zoom Funerals Are Getting Popular

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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COVID-19 crisis: virtual Zoom funerals are getting popular. No more hugging as the pandemic disrupts the ritual of saying goodbye. Photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash

More than 100 people attended the Feb. 29 funeral of retired janitor Andrew J. Mitchell, in Albany, a small Georgia city of 75,000 people. Within weeks, Albany was swamped with coronavirus cases. At least 490 confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in Dougherty County and at least 29 coronavirus-related deaths.

Izell Williams Jr., the pastor who delivered Mitchell’s eulogy, has since died of coronavirus complications, CNN reported. He was 58.

U.S. health experts now estimate the coronavirus death toll will be between 100,000 and 240,000. Funerals — a ritual where we remember the dead and comfort the living — have been upended by the coronavirus outbreak and changed the way we say goodbye.

With many states now prohibiting gatherings of any kind, some families and funeral directors are using technology to hold virtual memorials and avoid exposing guests to coronavirus during the pandemic.

Alternatives include using online video conferencing such as Zoom, allowing friends and family to gather virtually for eulogies, music, and personal tributes.

Family and friends around the world can “attend” (sort of) the funeral and later the at-home mourning service by broadcasting them virtually. But it’s a sad substitute for being able to hug loved ones and offer support.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 70: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin goes solo to discuss the COVID-19 crisis. He talks about the failed leadership of Trump, Andrew Cuomo, CDC Director Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and New York Mayor de Blasio.

Dr. Steven W. Thrasher, a writer and Northwestern University professor, tweeted on March 30, “Just ‘attended’ my first Zoom funeral and let me just say Fuck all of this. Fuck COVID-19. Fuck Trump letting it rip thru our most vulnerable. Fuck the alienation of a crisis that forbids gathering & touch. & fuck the racism, transphobia & xenophobia that lead us here.”

Amy Cunningham, a Brooklyn-based funeral director, talked to Mother Jones about experimenting with alternatives — ways people can “grieve as a community without actually being together in a chapel, as they once were, seated side by side, hugging and crying and sharing boxes of tissues.”

“We’re going to perhaps need to, for the next couple of months, experiment with that kind of thing,” Cunningham said.