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What It’s Like To Host A Live-Stream Funeral For A Grieving Family

Australia’s funeral directors have the tough job of helping families grieve while in isolation, and strict social distancing rules mean live-streaming goodbyes is one of the only ways they can provide closure.

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced funeral services can only have 10 attendees or less. For grieving families, the restrictions came as a blow -- they'd have to choose which family members could say goodbye in person.

To help them cope, funeral directors launched a range of digital services, allowing families to mourn their loved ones from a distance.

These include live-streaming, the use of Facetime, Zoom and House Party during viewings and uploading videos onto websites after services.

Andrew Pinder, President of the Australian Funeral Directors Association, told 10 daily he hosted a virtual viewing last week of someone who'd died from COVID-19.

Andrew Pinder says funerals are essential for mental health. Image: Getty

"His family were either self-isolating or overseas and another funeral director had refused to hold the service. We said we could take photographs and they organised a Facetime group and called me," Pinder said.

The funeral director held the viewing for almost an hour and said it was a great comfort for the family to be able to say goodbye, even if it was through a screen.

"They were able to sing to their dad, talk to each other, tell stories, cry, laugh and they had the feeling of being together," he said.

Digital funerals are particularly useful as they provide an alternative for those who live overseas and are unable to travel, or for people required to self-isolate.

And while some have called Australia's restrictions heartless, in countries like the United States and Italy, only funeral directors and staff are allowed to physically attend services.

'Heartbreaking No Matter Where You Experience Them'

Within a week of losing his job and getting into a car accident, Harrison Engstrom was forced to watch his beloved great aunt's funeral on his computer through a live stream.

It was far from an ideal situation but Engstrom says he's thankful he was still able to be involved in her digital farewell.

Engstrom told 10 daily while there was an audio glitch at the beginning of the service, the funeral was handled "very professionally".

Harrison Engstrom and his great aunt Carmel Drysdale. Image: Supplied
Carmel Drysdale holding her child. Image: Supplied

His great aunt, Carmel Drysdale, died of organ failure at 88 years old, just an hour before Engstrom was made redundant from his job.

He told 10 daily he'd been going through a difficult time before the funeral and the death of his aunt hit him particularly hard.

"My great aunt was genuinely one of the nicest people. She was this wonderful, sweet, polite Catholic woman," Engstrom said.

"She worked at the same RSL club for 40 years and lived in her home for five decades where she always brought people together," he said.

I'm going to miss her laughter and how she'd always have one dirty joke that she was afraid to tell.
Engstrom said the virtual service was "better than nothing". Image: Supplied
Carmel Drysdale died aged 88. Image: Supplied

"I cried during the whole funeral. Funerals are heartbreaking no matter where you experience them but it's great that there's this middle ground where people can still attend," Engstrom said.

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'An Essential Part Of The Grieving Process'

Pinder believes funerals are an essential part of the grieving process and says he's grateful the government has granted the industry permission to continue directing services.

"It's critically important for mental health to be able to have a funeral ... It's part of embarking upon a process of healing from the biggest loss experienced in your life," he said.

Pinder is a Funeral Director at Ern Jensen Funerals in Melbourne and acknowledges that from "time to time" they experience technical difficulties.

However, he said they've got contingency plans in place to deal with internet outages or breakdowns in technology.

"Yesterday in Melbourne there was a period of a few hours where there were internet outages but another option is the recording of the service and then uploading that on a funeral director website," Pinder said.

"I think we'll learn something out of coronavirus about what is possible in terms of the technology."

Do you have a story tip to share? Contact Eden at egillespie@networkten.com.au