/ Health, Technology

‘Live streaming’ funerals – the death of decorum?

A council in Staffordshire is planning to live stream funerals over the internet via webcam, according to the BBC. Is this a fitting way to say goodbye, or the ultimate in poor taste?

Some might say it’s a case of technology gone mad.

I have to confess that that was my gut reaction when I read Stafford Borough Council plans to install webcams in a local crematorium, along with a new music system. It seems like a step too far.

A chance to say goodbye

Then I read past the headline and saw that the council’s intention is to allow those who are either too sick, or too far away to get their chance say goodbye.

A few years ago, a close relative of mine died. I’d recently had an operation and couldn’t make the five plus hours to attend the funeral service. While I spent most of the day thinking about her, I felt I’d missed out on saying a proper goodbye.

There was no chance for me to take comfort in shared grief or to reminisce about the deceased – in this case a very special lady who’d won an MBE for her charity work.

Concerns around privacy

Blanket coverage of services would be in bad taste. But, the council seems to have thought of that too. Anyone attending a service by webcam will need a pin code to log in. Services will then be encrypted and streamed over a secure server.

Arguably, this is a more efficient way of stopping unwanted guests turning up at the church.

In addition to live streaming, the council is installing an 80,000-track music database, which it says will allow families to choose songs to play without having to track them down at such a poignant time. It’s an impressive selection, despite there only being a handful of songs that remain popular at funerals (Angels by Robbie Williams being a stand out).

Streamed funerals are no substitute

A spokesperson for the council has said that this technology will allow families to have a ‘more meaningful funeral’. That I’m not so sure about.

It’s fair enough to use streaming to let the few who genuinely can’t get there a chance to pay their respects. But I’d hate to see this type of service being used as a substitute for the real thing, or as a cost-cutting exercise (less people at the funeral means less people to cater for at the wake).

Would you watch a loved one’s funeral streamed over the internet?


I was shocked the first time I heard popular music at a funeral and rather surprised when I first saw the text of hymns projected on a large screen in karaoke style.

I agree with Sarah about streaming a funeral for the benefit of those who are unable to attend, and it seems inevitable that funerals will evolve from the traditional format. Providing that we continue to respect the deceased I am open to ideas, but would feel more comfortable with gradual change. The wishes of the deceased and their immediate family come first.

Mark SW4 says:
15 December 2011

Live streaming of funerals! Once it catches on, doesn’t it just mean we can all have a celeb funeral – princess Di style – and let anyone who wants to watch tune in. The media cover quite a few funerals already so sticking them on the internet does not seem much of a step further.
What’s strange about this idea though is that it is such a passive, one way process.
Obviously the main reason to attend a funeral is to pay your respects to the deceased person; but unless you are a true believer the deceased is not going to know if you were there or not, online or physically.
But, at least for me, the other main reason to attend a funeral is the opp to meet family and friends of the deceased. Yes, shock horror, to interact with them in person, reminiscing about the deceased. You can’t do that just viewing a funeral online, esp a crematorium one – which are usually awful, rushed and rarely a fitting send off. Or do they propose to have a ‘video conference’ format and a big screen saying ‘x people online now’! I can just imagine the screen: ‘Aunty Mavis has joined the funeral online from Liverpool; there are now 15 people watching online’.
More seriously though, I of course agree that, for those genuinely unable to attend, this idea has its merits with the safeguards proposed by Stafford Council. So, as technology does now enable it, why not. Just not for me, thank you very much (I’m just off to amend my will, Sarah).

Some awful mistakes occur with crematorium music; it is not unknown for the curtains to close around the catafalque to the rousing sounds of “Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye”.
On balance I think this is a good idea, provided all concerned show respect as mentioned in previous posts. Families are so dispersed these days it is impractical for everyone who wants to attend a funeral to get there and being able to witness the service on-line is beneficial. Our relatives in NZ would have liked to have been at my mother-in-law’s [their aunt’s] funeral recently but time and distance precluded it. It would be a pity if people started watching their relatives’ funerals while at work or on a laptop by the pool, or if people who could get to a funeral if they made more effort gave up and viewed it on-line, but you can’t legislate for the disrespectful.

For those who’s friends and family are scattered across the globe it makes a lot of sense. So for instance, a white South African now living in the UK is very likely to have close family & friends on three or more continents.