COVID-19 makes saying goodbye a difficult task
Dr. Marci Hanks and her family were forced to use technology to deal with death during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a surreal time due to COVID-19. We ended up having online family gatherings for three consecutive weekends — a funeral, a baby gender reveal party and Easter celebrations.
At the same time that all of this was happening, as a college director of Academic Success Centers, I helped to transition all of the tutoring services online. We needed to make sure that we still could help students to be successful and adjust to the new online classes.
My hope is to help others learn to use online technology to live their lives as close to normal as possible during COVID-19. That could be grieving the loss of loved ones or celebrating the joys of life with families and friends.
My family lives in two countries, three states and one province.
COVID-19 wasn’t the reason my father was dying. He was dying due to a heart condition, diabetes and underlying medical conditions. He was 73.
He wanted all of his children and grandchildren to be together one last time for one special last meal. We bought our airline tickets and made travel arrangements.
But suddenly, before we really understood what was happening, COVID-19 brought travel to a halt. That dashed our plans.
My dad then passed away suddenly. Because of COVID-19, we had to learn how to come together online to grieve and plan his online funeral and memorial service.
Online funeral and memorial service
We did most of our planning through Zoom meetings, while sharing our screens, documents and files.
Through Google Drive, family members and the reverend shared different parts of the services such as recordings and pictures. I have taught online for years, so I am fortunate to have high quality equipment.
My husband and I used my Blue Yeti microphone, Logitech webcam and laptop to record my son singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, A Capella.” My brothers and sisters also used their computers or their phones to make recordings.
The reverend used his iPhone on a tripod to record his sermon and opening and closing prayers. It felt like we were inside of the church with him. We made a beautiful PowerPoint presentation decorated with lilies to embed everyone’s roles, recordings and pictures.
My son used GeForce Experience’s desktop capture to compile everyone’s files and the PowerPoint presentation into one video recording. GeForce Experience can record the laptop’s desktop and computer audio.
For the opening PowerPoint slides, we played an audio recording on the computer of my son’s music. He played an Italian guitar composition to celebrate my dad’s heritage. My dad moved to Canada from Sicily when he was 11 years old.
Later in life, he moved to the United States. As the music played on the computer, three pictures came in sequence — my father in his teenage years, his middle-age years and in his final days.
A picture of the street with the church in the far background came next. That’s where his funeral would have taken place in Canada, if not for COVID-19.
Then, there was a close-up picture of the outside of the church and then pictures of the inside of the church.
Recordings of everyone’s scripture readings, hymns, the eulogy and the sermon were followed by the closing prayer and hymn.
A memorial PowerPoint presentation honored my dad. Each family member had a slide, and some had pictures of themselves with my father.
Children and grandchildren wrote poems, spoke about him, made drawings, played music, sang songs and wrote scripture as a tribute.
Since we could not gather, everyone used cellphones or computers to record these pieces separately. My brother provided an audio file to play in the background throughout the many slides. Using iMovie, my sister combined everyone’s contributions into one video.
We posted the combined funeral and memorial service on YouTube and Facebook. We had more than 1,300 views for the online funeral service and memorial.
Having the online funeral and memorial service allowed more people to attend than would ever have been deemed possible for an in-person service.
Despite COVID-19 and travel restrictions, friends and family from all over the world were able to have closure.
Baby gender reveal party
Recently married in November and living in California, my niece and nephew are expecting their first child. They wanted to have family members gather for a gender reveal party.
But, due to COVID-19, their plans had to change. During an online Zoom meeting, family and friends got to see each other. Some hadn’t talked in years.
My nephew smashed open a piñata to reveal the baby’s gender as pink items fell to the ground. It’s going to be a girl!
My dad’s dying wish was to have one last family meal with all of his children and grandchildren on Easter Sunday. He dreamed of serving us barbecued Alaskan salmon and Alaskan King Crab.
The whole family had purchased airplane tickets and made travel arrangements. Sadly, COVID-19 and travel restrictions rendered my dad’s dying wish impossible.
My father died before Easter. He realized that it would be impossible for everyone to get to see him because of COVID-19.
It is with tears and regret that I wish we would have thought about having an online meal with everyone before he passed away.
But, it was not too late for my 70-year-old mom or my husband’s 84-year-old mom, who recently was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, to have all of their children and grandchildren together on Easter.
Therefore, we decided to organize Zoom Easter gatherings for both my family and my husband’s family.
My mother had every child and grandchild present at her Easter gathering. My husband’s mother had most of her children present.
We each took turns telling our mothers our favorite memories with them through the years. We had many laughs and enjoyed celebrating Easter together.
The nice thing about Zoom is you can easily record these keepsake memories. I was able to send family members Easter Party screenshots of all of us together in the video chat gallery.
Although living life online is not always ideal, we do not have to miss out on sharing important life events with those we love and cherish. Online events have their benefits as well, making it possible for those far away to participate.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, in order to continue living our lives, we have to be creative, discover new ways to make things work and find ways to be together online.
Dr. Marci Hanks enjoys living on Florida’s Space Coast. She is the director of the Academic Success Center at Eastern Florida State College. Hanks is dedicated to helping students to be successful. She is a published author. She was an adjunct faculty member at Florida Tech. She also was an online instructor for many years.