Covid-19 restrictions: How families are using social media tools to pay their last respects

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Durban – Covid-19 lockdown regulations is changing the way we do things. From virtual meetings to livestreaming school lessons, many are learning of how to use social media tools in different ways.

For a Durban family, the lockdown meant having to livestream the funeral of a loved one because not everyone was allowed to attend due to travel bans and restrictions placed on gatherings.

For Carmen Christopher, the traditional way of planning and preparing a funeral had to take a back seat. Being Catholic and with lockdown restrictions, the family had to forego the traditional requiem mass and host a service.

“My mother-in-law was sick. My husband’s brother and sister live in the USA. And with travel restrictions, couldn’t make it,” she said.

Christopher said while they understood how the reality of the situation, they still wanted the family to be able to watch the service.

“We were able to set up a livestream link and sent the link to relatives in them as well as family living in India and Australia. We were limited to 50 people and the livestream allowed them to ‘attend’ as well,” she said.

She said having to limit the number of people who could attend the service, was tough.

“We had to also ensure that we took details of each person just in case we needed to trace them if anyone tested positive for Covid-19. We had to report the funeral to the police,” she said.

“We could not have a prayer meeting or after tears (lunch after a funeral service). It was tough. The restrictions changed a lot, especially for those who could not physically attend. They were six hours behind so they had to wake up at 3am to watch their loved mother be laid to rest,” she said.

The service was livestreamed by Alleyne Morton, a well-known face in Durban entertainment circles.

He said last year, he was asked to livestream a funeral service for a friend due to relatives living abroad, who could not attend the funeral.

“Being a bit of a tech-fundi and having some knowledge around it. After I did a few hours of research and connecting a few dots, I was happy to help,” he said.

Since the implementation of the lockdown, he has livestreamed two funeral services for grieving families.

He said most people welcomed the idea with open arms, and were grateful to have been able to be somewhat present, even just from an online perspective.

“Lots of messages of support and grief are posted during the online stream, which I try to save and hand to the closer loved ones once complete,” he said.

Morton said it was both a sensitive and emotional time for families and he tried to make it as seamless and dignified as possible.

“Cameras are set up before the service and we set up internet connection. A WhatsApp link is shared with the family which they share with relatives. Then once we are streaming, I try to stay out of everyone’s way and just get the best possible experience for the viewer on the other side, while monitoring the stream on my phone with ear pods to ensure I know what the viewers are seeing and hearing,” he said.

He said was tough to transition from being in the entertainment industry to now livestreaming funerals.

“It’s tough, being in the entertainment industry for most of my teen and adult life, I know lots of people from various communities in and around the Durban area. So to not feel anything is impossible, I’m a person with a family of my own and to see others in pain due to the loss of a loved one, it’s not easy at all.  Somehow last year, word spread with information that I could do this, and after doing it four times I had to decline doing it further. It weighed too heavy on me to go from being the DJ or MC at a happy celebration ‘party’ environment one night and within mere hours witness these scenes of loss and sadness,” he said.

Morton said he believed this was the “new normal”.

“Having started this before the mention of Covid-19, there definitely is a need for this service in general, depending on how travel restrictions are taken down now and crowd gatherings are treated, maybe even more so. People will always want to say goodbye to loved ones and being in the ever changing digital age, this may be a new way of life,” he said.

Nicole Paulse, whose mother died last year, also opted to livestream her mother’s funeral due to family living overseas being unable to attend.

She offered the following advice to those considering livestreaming a funeral; “You can create stationery, like bookmarks with a loved one’s face or a poem and send it to family and they can print it out as a memento. You could also set up a display during the service that will be shown as many people wouldn’t want to show the deceased’s face. Loved ones can also send messages during the livestream.”

The Mercury

By Se-Anne Rall


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