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I attended my brother’s funeral on Zoom. It’s not something I’d wish for anybody

I know it’s painful to skip gathering together this holiday season, but trust me: It’s not worth the risk.

I attended my brother’s funeral on Zoom. It’s not something I’d wish for anybody
[Photo: Samantha Borges/Unsplash]
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Amid the quarantinis, the kids crawling over laptops, and the dog walks, we are losing sight of a picture we don’t want to see.

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People are still dying.

Death is scary. And it happens to other people. Talking about it is uncomfortable. And humans have created rituals around avoiding it. “Funerals are for the living,” my sister said to me as we were hurriedly planning my father’s funeral at the end of last February, during those old days. The days when we could actually have funerals. When we could travel from Boston and Portland and New York to Illinois to bury him next to my mother, which had always been the plan.

On March 1, on my way back to New York City from Chicago, I bought what was probably the last bottle of hand sanitizer at O’Hare Airport. Or anywhere, honestly. Suddenly the shelves were bare, people were hoarding, and the world would never be the same.

Conferences were canceled; jobs were lost; schools were closed. And everyone started to Zoom. Forced to stay inside, our lives suddenly became very small and overwhelming. So we focused on how to keep ourselves sane: yoga videos, sourdough starter, homeschooling checklists, Marie-Kondo-ing the hell out of that closet. Meditation apps, and 10 million #wfh tips. But, with all the advice, the webinars, and the influencer recipes, no one told me how to plan the next family funeral.

It happened to be my brother’s. Less than six weeks after my father died, my brother was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. No one in my family ever saw him alive again.

Suddenly the technology that had been helping us peer into the personal lives of our colleagues and clients was being used for the most not normal thing ever: a Zoom funeral.

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At a real-life funeral a hug can make up for the lack of words. On Zoom, that’s not an option.”

It was a first for everyone involved, including the priest. The church was empty except for him and one socially distant singer. The musicians were in their living rooms. One sister did the eulogy from her home office; the other spoke from her dining room. I shared my screen for a slideshow. My other brother did a reading from his kitchen table. We dressed in black. My son wore a tie. No one wore shoes. There were mourners on living room couches, on back decks, in beds. Together, but alone.

It was awkward. But you know, even regular funerals are uncomfortable. However, at a real-life funeral, a hug can make up for the lack of words. On Zoom, that’s not an option.

I run an advertising agency noted for our ability to have difficult conversations. To bring the uncomfortable into the everyday. We deal with subjects that cause shame or stigma and that people just want to avoid, but even we avoid the very uncomfortable subject of death. No one wants to bring the mood down farther. No one wants to go there. And so no one does.

Trump tweeted, “Do not be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.” But that’s exactly what we need to do. While he was in the hospital, for just 72 hours, nearly 150,000 more people in the U.S. alone tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly 1,500 died. And now, a month later, over 100,000 Americans have tested positive—one day, 100,000 positive COVID-19 tests—bringing the total to more than 11 million cases and 248,000 deaths.

As we look at the world around us, pat ourselves on the back for staying home in the spring, the summer, and even into the fall, as we see retail and restaurants and schools reopening (and many quickly re-closing), as we think how great getting everyone together for Thanksgiving sounds and how desperately we deserve a drink at our favorite bar, we can not—must not—avoid looking at what we don’t want to see.

Skipping the parties and dinners this year will make sure there are more of us to celebrate next year. We give this disease to each other by being with each other. So stay vigilant. Stay distant. Stay alive. I don’t want to go to a Zoom funeral again.

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Katie Keating is a founding partner and co-chief creative officer of Fancy LLC, an ad agency dedicated to elevating what’s important to women. She is spending more time than she ever imagined with her husband and two teenagers at home in Brooklyn.