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Cyber ‘Celebrations of Life’ During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Fate in the form of a national emergency with shelter-in-place orders changed our plans entirely

My 87-year-old father died on Valentine’s Day. His passing occurred before the national COVID-19 crisis and before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic. I was able to confidently board an airplane to fly back to Michigan and spend time with him during the last week of his life. In retrospect, I was fortunate to have that kind of precious time with an ailing loved one. Today, most hospitals are restricting entry and not allowing visitors in an attempt to slow the spread of this disease. Patients aren’t able to have supportive visits that help them cope with the stress of sickness and hospitalization.

My family decided on having a “Celebration of Life” ceremony for my father when it would be convenient for us, rather than having a traditional funeral days after his death. My son attends Santa Rosa Junior College, so we planned on having the event after the conclusion of the current semester. Fate in the form of a national emergency with shelter-in-place orders changed our plans entirely. The idea of having a gathering with dozens of people for a banquet became unthinkable. My mother thought we should just postpone the event until it was safe to gather again. I disagreed. We have little convincing data on how long this will last across the United States, and I didn’t want to risk anyone’s health for an event to have people reminisce about the life of my father. Instead, we’re reconfiguring how we will hold this ceremony to mark the passing of my father.

Funerals are ceremonies held to help survivors cope with the passing of a loved one. Not having that closure makes the loss harder to accept. Seeing the sheer number of deaths in New York City and Detroit on a daily basis due to COVID-19 makes my heart hurt. I share with them in this season of grief, but I feel fortunate for the time I spent with my father that others were likely denied.

Don McCabe, 2018

We’re not postponing our celebration; instead, we’re moving it online via Zoom teleconferencing. Using online tutorials, I watched a few videos and started experimenting with the platform for cyber cocktail hours with friends. The free version limits you to sessions lasting for 40 minutes with groups of three to 100. Zoom creates invitations including a time for the event to start and a link to join the meeting. Joining a meeting is as simple as clicking on the link at the appropriate time, downloading some software, testing your audio set up and then being recognized by your host. I started with the free version, but now pay $15 a month, so my meetings don’t have time limits. Today, Zoom is part of our national vocabulary and has become a popular platform for universities to hold online classes, workplaces to host online meetings, and people to stay emotionally connected with friends and family during this time of sequestration. I hope that others can make use of current online technology to have safe memorials for their loved ones.

I’ve been connecting with family and friends over phone, email and Facebook to develop a mailing list to send an invitation to the virtual online celebration. As host, I can control when participants can speak by unmuting their microphones one at a time while highlighting their screen. This avoids the problem of a cacophony of noises coming from more than 50 households simultaneously. The celebration will start with a slideshow of pictures from my father’s life and then I will open “the floor” for personal tributes to his life and legacy.

I fully expect some tall tales to be told about my father as well as some heartfelt expressions. Though he was a Korean War veteran, a military 21-gun salute doesn’t seem appropriate for him. My father was more of a 21 shots of Irish whiskey salute kind of guy. I wish to end the cyber gathering with a gallery view of everyone hoisting a glass of their favorite beverage to my father.

Even though the many participants will be miles apart, our hearts will be connected in celebration of a life well lived. Rest in Power, Don McCabe.

Sláinte.

Linda C. McCabe lives in Santa Rosa. She is the author of Quest of the Warrior Maiden and Fate of the Saracen Knight, fantasy novels that are adaptations from the legends of Charlemagne, which can be found on amazon.com. Linda can be found on Twitter at @LindaCMcCabe or contacted through her website at LindaCMcCabe.com.

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