Grief and technology: PowerPoint, Skype and other technology add to some services

January 26, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Scott Minnich Jr. of Minnich Funeral Home in Hagerstown says conversations about how to incorporate technology into funeral services have become common in the last few years. Skype is offered at Minnich.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

It was a cinematic short of a loved one's life — photos and videos that told the story of a man and his accomplishments.

There were snapshots of his childhood, old footage of his wedding day, a portrait of a proud father with his family and videos of vacations and holiday celebrations.

It could have been a retirement or birthday party.

Instead, it was a memorial service.

In an age of the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, it's inevitable that funerals — one of the oldest human rituals — would embrace the newest of technologies.

Slide shows, online condolences, DVD tributes and funeral web casts reflect the new look of how people honor those who have died.

At Minnich Funeral Home on East Wilson Boulevard in Hagerstown, conversations about how to incorporate technology into funeral services have become more common over the past few years, said Scott Minnich Jr.

"With young people, technology usually comes into play," he said. "It's not unusual that they will request such things as slide shows or digital presentations."

But with those who "may not be computer savvy, who are not online, we let them know what is available," he said. "Often, they go along with it."

Among the offerings his funeral home provides, Minnich said, are online condolences, which have become fairly common in the funeral home business.

If people want to send a special message to the family, they simply go to the funeral home's website, locate the obituary and leave their comments.

According to the National Funeral Home Directors Association, many funeral homes will take those condolences and download them into DVDs that can then be shared with family members.

Traveling to funerals was once an important family rite. But distance, health issues, bad weather and cost of travel often prevent people from making the trip.

That doesn't mean they still can't be part of the ceremony.

Minnich Funeral Home, for instance, offers Skype — a software application that allows individuals to communicate with others by voice and video over the Internet.

"Recently, a person who was in the military stationed in Iraq was able to Skype and be part of the funeral," Minnich said. "Although he was thousands of miles away, he was connected to everything that was happening at that very moment."

Minnich said his funeral home always has had a public address system to accommodate overflow crowds seated in other rooms.

"But a few years ago, we placed a camera in one of our chapels. So, now, people can not only hear what is going on they can see it also," he said. "The camera will project the entire front of the room so the casket and minister can be viewed." The service is password protected.

Rest Haven Funeral Home has been incorporating technology for about a decade, said Eric Brown, owner/manager.

"We began offering slide shows about six or seven years ago," he said. "Families can bring in their photos and we'll make a slide show that loops on a flat screen TV. But with all the technology available today, many families do the show themselves."

Brown said it's usually a younger member of the family, such as a grandchild, who is technologically advanced and "comes in with a laptop and does an amazing tribute."

Such tributes have become increasingly popular, he said. "You'll always find a cluster of people who gather around it."

Brown said the funeral home also offers online condolences.

In addition, a newly added feature allows individuals to conveniently send a symphony card directly from Rest Haven's website, which can be personalized and mailed to the family or to the funeral home to be hand delivered to the family, he said.

And the memorial cards and booklets that once were sent out to a printer are now done in house, Brown said.

"Before, there always was the risk of a mistake," he noted. "Now, we can print out 500 cards using one computer program. If there is an error or the family wants to change something, it can be done almost instantly."

Even choosing a casket has become easier, thanks to technology.

"We have a kiosk with a touch screen that allows you to select and view whatever you want," Brown said. "It's a little softer environment, a more pleasant experience. It's more like walking into a Hallmark store."

Brown said he expects the funeral business to "constantly change" because of technology. And funeral homes will have to be willing to go along with those changes. "It's about listening to the customer."

"People will always want to memorialize their loved ones," he said. "But now they have more say in how that is done. It should be about how the family wants to memorialize that person — not how we think it should be done."

While technology will continue to have its affect on funerals, Minnich said he doubts it will come to the point where everything will be done by way of the computer.

"There is still a very personal feeling attached to funerals," he said. "This is the last time friends and family will see an individual and most want to be there in person to pay their respects. I don't think that will change."

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