News & Politics

I Attended a Zoom Funeral, and I Liked It

Mourning in the age of social distancing

Coronavirus 2020

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Yes, it sounds crazy to say that one “liked” a funeral. Clearly, I wish I was not attending a funeral at all. But I surprised myself to find that the Zoom funeral experience was extremely moving and much better than I expected.

One of my closest friends lost her father to Covid-19. He died on April 1 at the age of 81 at St. Barnabus Hospital in Livingston, New Jersey. His life ended too early due to this terrible pandemic. He lived a full life and was very well-loved. I know this not due to a close relationship with him (I only had the pleasure of meeting him once or twice) but I know this because of his Zoom funeral. And while, it is no substitute for hugs and consolation of those grieving, it did its job well sharing love in another way. Here were a few of the silver linings as I saw them.

First, I could see and hear clearly. I am slightly hard of hearing and sometimes sitting in the back of a synagogue or church I miss words. Not on Zoom. It was clear as a bell. And rather than being 10 or 20 rows back, I could see the eulogizers. More importantly, I could see the expressions of love and grief on their faces. It touched me and moved me deeply.

Second, I could see the expressions of others, especially his beautiful wife of 43 years. She smiled and laughed as grandchildren told tales of their times with PaPa. I could see her eyes fill with tears as her daughter spoke of how much she loved her dad and how he took care of her mom when her mom was ill last year. I doubt anyone could have seen her face and not seen the love that written all over it. This was true of others, too. I saw couples hold hands, parents console children and people whose faces read “this person meant something to me.”

Third, I was able to attend. Would I have made it to New Jersey if it had been held there in ‘normal’ times? Maybe. But maybe not, depending on family, my own health, travel, etc.

And finally, there were a few things that only through at a virtual funeral could one easily do. My teenage kids are home distance learning like so many others. I pulled them out of “class” to hear the eulogies by my friend’s children, whom they know. They too could hear the love of the grandchildren and feel empathy at having lost two of their own. My oldest son made brownies later to take to their house (they are neighbors). Being of an age where many of my friends have lost parents, I have mentioned funerals I attended at the dinner table but this one my children felt. I was so happy that they could hear and see the eulogies of a life well lived. There was inspiration and advice which I hope they absorbed if only in part.

I will add in the minutiae of a Zoom funeral that the prayers appeared on the screen written out. No flipping through the Bible trying to find the right verse. I missed holding the Bible but didn’t miss my usual experience of being a verse or two behind by the time I found the right page.

I have lost both my parents. I share the pain and grief my dear friend suffers. I know the support and physical love I received from my family during this terrible time. My heart breaks for her and her family but I hope she felt the love through that screen. It was there and it was powerful.

 

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CEO & President

Catherine Merrill is CEO and President of Washingtonian Media, a media company that includes the flagship 54-year-old magazine, Washingtonian, the national capital region’s leading monthly with more than 400,000 readers and winner of five National Magazine Awards; Washingtonian.com—the region’s premier lifestyle website with millions of pageviews per month and over 500,000 social media followers; Washingtonian Weddings; Washingtonian Welcome Guide; as well as Washingtonian Custom Media and Washingtonian Events.

From 2002 to 2007, Ms. Merrill served as Director of Operations for Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), where she helped manage and collect 60 percent of the nation’s tolls—$2.7 billion a year—including the majority of the E-ZPass network. Prior to joining ACS, from 1995 to 2002, she was a partner in the worldwide management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Ms. Merrill is very active in the community and serves on the board of trustees of multiple organizations including the University of Maryland College Park (where she also chairs the Board of Visitors for the School of Journalism), Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences, the City and Regional Magazine Association, Ford’s Theater, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and The Merrill Family Foundation. She is a member and former chapter chair of YPO (Young President’s Organization) as well as an active member in the Economics Club of Washington and the Federal City Council. She has appeared on CNN, the Today Show, CNN Headline News, FOX, MSNBC, as well as other local Washington stations.

She holds a B.A. from Cornell University and a M.Sc. from the London School of Economics.

Ms. Merrill resides in Washington, DC, with her two sons. She enjoys sailing, skiing, and travel.