It’s 11 o'clock on a Tuesday morning. Usually at this hour, I’d be stepping out of my office for an absurdly early lunch, but not today. Today, I find myself leaning into my computer screen in the most isolated corner of The Atlantic's kitchen, hoping that no one stumbles in as I try to watch a stranger’s funeral over the Internet.
When Walker Posey invited me to view the funeral of his grandmother, Alta Marie, via webcast, I was stunned. I had already interviewed Posey, a fourth-generation funeral director, for this article. He shared his experiences and opinions about funeral webcasting with me, but I didn’t expect him to let me watch a funeral, let alone the funeral of one of his family members. I knew I had to say yes to his offer, but I wanted to say no. I felt anxious about being a voyeur, a foreign digital presence in an otherwise private family moment.
I was not alone in my discomfort. When I asked my coworkers if they had ever watched a private funeral service online, the answer was a universal no. That no also came with a lot of weird looks. Most people don’t like to talk about death at all, but the added component of online viewing seems to push this topic firmly into the taboo. And yet, Posey estimates that around a quarter of his customers decide to use webcasting when preparing a funeral service.
Webcasting has been around since the mid-1990s, but the service didn’t infiltrate the funeral industry until the early 2000s. Even then, it was a sluggish incursion, one that only gained momentum in the last six or seven years. “The funeral profession’s like a cruise ship,” said Joe Joachim, CEO of funeralOne, a Detroit-based company that began offering funeral webcasting around 2002. “It takes a while to turn, but it can turn.”