On a cold January morning in 2021, I watched a live, one-hour, online Catholic funeral of a dear friend of the family. This was a unique one, as it was the first livestreamed funeral I have ever attended. Also, it was held during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was held in a very beautiful church in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
My first thought after it ended was, “Well, that was different.” And the next was, “I watched it in my pajamas.”
I then processed my feelings and felt I should write about it. For anyone else who has attended a livestream event like this, perhaps you can relate.
The funeral was shown on YouTube as a live feed. Anyone with the link was able to get access to it. My daughter Simone and I watched it on our big screen Panasonic television from our living room as it air played from my iPhone using the YouTube app. My husband went to his father’s place to watch it there with him. We couldn’t all be together due to COVID restrictions.
Nine family members were in attendance (I suspect there could have been ten), and it looks like it was the nine most important people in the woman’s life: her husband (now a widower), three children, three grandchildren, and two in-laws.
The priest officiated. Everyone was wearing masks. Masks were taken off either to speak or take communion.
The deceased’s daughter gave a beautiful eulogy and gave us a history of her mom and her time in Italy and Canada. She also told us how hard it was to see her mom get sick during COVID. She wishes she had kissed her mom one last time on Jan. 13, but she wasn’t able to due to physically distanced restrictions. Facetiming was the best way for the family to communicate with her. Thank God there was a family session the day before she passed, when she was still conscious.
Watching a funeral from home is different, as you can verbalize things you normally wouldn’t say while attending a funeral. It’s an odd feeling.
Her granddaughter gave an emotional eulogy and told us, while tearing up, that she was so glad she gave her grandmother a big hug last July—even though she wasn’t supposed to. I said, out loud, “Good! I am glad, too.” She was emotional when she told us that she wishes she had been able to hug her grandmother more and be there for her in the last few months. COVID restrictions prevented them from getting close to one another. Hearing the granddaughter say this caused me to choke up. I said out loud, “COVID sucks. That’s horrible.” The realities of this horrible disease really hit home for me.
Even though the audio and video of the livestream wasn’t the greatest, I was able to get a good feel for what was going on. Watching it from the comfort of our living room was the next best thing to being there. Thank God for technology.
There were two highlights for me. The first was the granddaughter’s speech as it was so heartfelt. I also loved how the priest took the burning incense and swung it over the casket, which was draped with a gold and cream-coloured cloth. This is the part of a Catholic funeral that I think is most meaningful. It symbolizes the person’s spirit rising into heaven. The smoke provides a visual of the spirit leaving the body and moving onwards.
The daughter says Mom suffered for 15 years and she has been wanting to be with God for a while now. She is finally resting in peace.
Experiencing this online funeral, in my pajamas, in my living room, has been another rude awakening to how COVID is affecting our lives. Not only did it take someone’s life, but it also took away the traditional, proper sendoff that Catholics are accustomed to.
It’s been over ten months since COVID uprooted our lives and changed our social norms. The vaccine is here, but it’s still going to be months before we start seeing any semblance of what life used to be like.
I now have a first-hand account of how COVID can take the life of a dear one and what a COVID-safe Catholic funeral mass looks and feels like. It is very sad. It is hard to fathom that at a person’s greatest time of need—after losing a loved one—touches and hugs from people outside of their household is prohibited.
What is there, however, is the community’s love and support. It’s all virtual and from a safe distance, but it’s there. I hope they feel it. I am sending lots of warm, caring virtual hugs to those grieving.
Riposa in pace, dear one.
Angela G. Gentile, M.S.W, R.S.W.