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Funeral homes adopting Skype

– The same online technology that allows grandparents to bond with out-of-state grandchildren is also allowing far-flung relatives to participate in funeral calling hours.

Skype, a video-conferencing service, is being offered locally by D.O. McComb & Sons Funeral Home at no additional cost to families booking services through one of the Fort Wayne company’s eight locations, co-owner Dave McComb said.

By logging onto the Skype website and placing a call, users can see and hear each other. That allowed a son living in Australia to attend the visiting hours for his mother late last year.

His brother, who lives in Fort Wayne, carried a laptop around the room, pointing its built-in camera at floral arrangements as he narrated for his overseas sibling about who had sent each one. E. Edward Cook kept the computer – and his brother, Gary Cook – at his side throughout the three-hour calling period, McComb said. By doing so, Edward Cook made it possible for visitors to pay respects to all of Alberta Cook’s grieving children: Edward, Gary and their sister, Cheryl Cook.

The Rev. Roy Olsen, who performed the funeral service, said he often chats with his Florida-based extended family via Skype. But this was the first funeral he’s been involved with that used the online service.

“There’s no substitute for being there in person,” said the pastor of Emmaus Lutheran Church. “But I thought it was a blessing for the technology to be there … especially with a family member literally on the other side of the world.”

McComb agrees that attending funeral services and calling hours is the best choice for family and friends. But he understands that it’s not always possible.

Some people may not be able to make travel arrangements in time or be able to afford an expensive flight. Some may have physical limitations that prevent travel. And, with the flu going around, some may not want to expose others to their illness.

“Other than receiving hugs, it’s a pretty good alternative,” McComb said of the technology.

The long-distance visitation can also be set up with an electronic tablet, he said, and it can run using Skype or FaceTime, Apple’s video-conferencing service.

McComb & Sons, which held about 1,500 funerals last year, has had only one family request a Skype connection since it was first offered in November.

But Dave McComb believes demand will increase as families become more comfortable with the technology.

The family-owned funeral home has provided live streaming video for absent family members, including troops serving in the Middle East. The McComb staff also has recorded funeral services for viewing on the other side of the world at a more reasonable hour.

Ashley Cozine, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association, is co-owner of Broadway Mortuary in Wichita, Kan.

His funeral home, which arranged about 375 services last year, has been offering funeral services via live streaming video for about three years. Most families are surprised by the suggestion because it’s something they’ve never considered, he said.

But the Skype idea is a new twist that Cozine will start mentioning to his customers as a service he can provide. He’d never considered it until he heard about McComb’s offering.

“I think it makes sense,” he said.

The option would have come in handy if he’d heard about it just one week earlier. Cozine’s wife missed her grandmother’s funeral service this month because she’s pregnant and unable to travel.

Olsen, the pastor, described the community aspect of funeral services and calling hours as an important part of the healing process. People are comforted by sharing memories of their loved ones, he said.

Skype allows family to participate in that aspect of a funeral.

“It’s a big part of that healing process, how this person became part of my life and influenced my story,” he said.

McComb, who comforts family members daily, couldn’t agree more.

“Our job here is to convert grief into mourning,” he said. “If you grieve well and mourn well, eventually you’ll be able to love well again.”

sslater@jg.net

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