SALT LAKE CITY — They say the only things certain in life are death and taxes.
Among the many uncertainties that arose during the past year, COVID-19 kind of removed the latter from life's short list of certainties (thanks for the 3-month float, you unruly bug). But even amidst — and sadly exacerbated by — COVID-19, death remains a certainty. What makes this virus even more merciless is it has taken our ability to mourn with those that mourn … in person, together.
I'm not afraid to say it: I love funerals and I miss them. Not in any macabre way, but because of the healing balm they are to my soul, my spirit, my inner me, my essence. If it wasn't super creepy (and now frowned upon from a socially distanced perspective), I'd likely invite myself to a random funeral, wake, shivah or celebration of life every now and then that I may come upon in my travels.
Why? Because, for the most part, funerals celebrate life. Sure there is sadness and grief, but ultimately funerals emit an energy of goodness brought into the world by an individual. The bettering influence they had on the people whose lives they touched.
On none too few occasions I've sat in a funeral with tears streaming down my face thinking to myself "I want to be like that guy" or "she made my life that much better," even at funerals for individuals I didn't know that well nor had spent much time with. That's the power of funerals.
Alas, virtual funerals are now a thing, bereft of intimacy like so many aspects of our increasingly digital lives. The moniker itself induces a disheartened sigh. So the question in this digitally distant age is: Must we be resigned to honor our loved ones over a video conference?
According to Brian Bartlett, vice president and general manager of Memorial Mortuary in Utah the answer is yes, "virtual funerals are here to stay." Which he adds is very important because they "allow for friends and families in a community who otherwise wouldn't have been able to normally attend the service to still gather together and mourn the loss and lean on each other for love and support."
Maybe it's wishful thinking to accept virtual funerals as necessary triage in a time of upheaval and chaos, but at the same time acknowledge that now more than ever this world needs more reminders of the goodness around us. In an environment focused on the latest innovations in proptech, fintech, biotech, etc., maybe we could dedicate more into developing some "goodtech." The kind of tech that helps us hold on to the uplifting salve a funeral — no, a celebration of life — brings to a divided and bedraggled world.
It seems the answer lies in making virtual-reality a bit more reality-reality by creating ways for people to invoke those life-validating emotions, insights and actions by sharing memories, anecdotes, endearing quips, photos, videos and, perhaps most importantly, "the little things" from those who touch our lives in meaningful and life changing ways every day.
Recently a family posting a Life Story on theMemories.com, one of the brands I lead, asked mourners to buy lunch for a friend in lieu of flowers. Another Life Story shared this tidbit of priceless wisdom:
"Brian's motto was to 'always build it 3 times stronger than it needs to be,' which didn't just apply to the things he fabricated [of metal], but to all facets of his life, particularly his personal and family relationships."
Some Life Stories include hundreds of photos, timeline entries from friends and family showcasing how much good one individual can bring to a big, sometimes lonely, oftentimes confusing world.
Can we develop ways to take this admirable archive of good and enshrine it in the genealogy of our past? Interest is booming in our heritage and what traits our predecessors exhibited to give us a leg up today. Ancestry and 23andMe have distributed over 40 million DNA kits. FamilySearch has indexed upward of 6 billion (with a 'b') images and records of our ancestors. Why? Maybe because we have an intrinsic desire to glean good from our past so as to brighten our future.
Can we move beyond spatial, geographic, technologic or social-distancing constraints to more fully celebrate and give meaning to those who have passed and yet continue to lift us? I'm hopeful we can.