Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Virtual Funeral, Real Healing

virtual funeral

What can we learn from a funeral that takes place in a virtual world, attended by the avatars of real people, mourning the death of a real man? The following text is an excerpt from Caleb Booker's blog:

Of course, most of us have been to a funeral and, occasionally, witnessed death
in the form of a corpse in an open casket. My first such experience was at my
grandfather’s funeral. We packed into the small funeral parlor and my
grandmother made polite, smiling conversation with guests while standing next to
… well … a body. For the most part I just found it strange; my proper and
conservative grandmother socializing next to something that, no matter how it
was dressed up and made-up, was something you most certainly wouldn’t want hanging
around your living room. The dichotomy drove home how powerful a healing
experience the whole thing must be to a great many people.
I was recently
sent a press release about “Our Lady of The Angels Church”. It’s a cathedral in
Second Life, and they’ve recently announced full funeral services. The
notice included an open invitation to the funeral of the father of Christopher
Whippet (his SL
name). It felt a little odd to me that they would be inviting press to a
funeral, especially considering it didn’t seem like they were planing some kind of
spectacular. It was just a straight-up “we gather to mourn the loss… press
When I arrived at the sim I hesitated outside for awhile. I considered
staying at a distance from the proceedings and taking pictures from afar, but I
was spotted by the funeral director, Leah Corleone, and invited inside.

I asked her if it was really alright, she told me that it was the bereaved’s
idea to call members of the media and that he was putting aside time after the
ceremony to talk to us. When I asked Christopher why he wanted attention drawn
to his dad’s v-funeral, he said: “because i loved my dad so and want everyone to
know what a son would do for his father he loved so much.”
I still felt a
little funny about it but I decided to take him at his word. Whether or not you
take Christopher’s intentions at face value, “Stanley W.” was a real person in
the real world (as seen in the hospital and casket photos). These people had
gathered here, in the virtual world, to support their friend. The ritual was
being performed.
So in I went.
The elements were all here, but with that
v-world twist to them. The nuns were knockouts with ruby-red lips, the priest
was a barrel-chested stud, and there were members of the congregation that most
certainly weren’t
human. In Second Life you tend not to think twice about these things from day to
day, but this was a ceremony about a real-world death and so I couldn’t help but take
Otherwise the ceremony was pretty standard. It was a regular Roman
Catholic Church approved Latin mass, people said “Amen” at the appropriate
times (well, typed it into chat), we gathered around the coffin with the 2D
flowers on top and the priest anointed it. Friends said kind words. People
It went very smoothly, due in no small part to the funeral
director’s efforts. Her real-world family are in the business, apparently, and
she consulted with them heavily in preparation. It paid off.
Is this a sign
of things to come? Will the grass next to “Our Lady of The Angels Church” soon
become filled with graves and monuments to people who have passed on in the real
There’s a good possibility. People have been erecting memorials and
having loose remembrance ceremonies in Second Life for a long time now, so this
is the next logical step. The v-wedding industry is huge already, so why not
The thing is, something real came out of this as well.
Christopher doesn’t
leave his home much (long story), and most of his friends are online. If a
funeral is how one gains closure, how can he do so when those who might support
him are all miles away? Religious ceremonies are symbols of transition from an
old way of life to a new one. If that’s the case, this funeral becomes no less
legitimate by being held in a virtual world. It makes its mark in the hearts and
minds of the participants as potently as it might have had it been held in the
real world, carrying the same messages and helping those who need to move on

. -from Caleb Booker's Blog visit the site for the full text and a remarkable video http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2008/01/13/v-funeral/

second life
This virtual funeral service obviously served a very real purpose, and for the home bound son, was an opportunity to share the burden of his grief with his friends who are presumably scattered across the globe. Could a 'real' funeral have accomplished what this one did? What I find striking is that even in a virtual funeral, the virtual body is present in it's virtual casket and is buried in a virtual cemetery where it will remain as long as the virtual world does. Why are these things present when so often in 'real' life when we have the real body and can place in the real ground, we don't do these things? Why is this virtual service attended when so often 'real' services aren't?
Ultimately, these elements are present because it feels right that way, because this is how we say good bye- to the body of our loved one. This is how we lay them to rest- in a beautiful place where we can go back to visit them. This is how we deal with the burden of grief and loss- we surround ourselves with those we love, and by sharing each other's burdens, our own becomes lighter.
cyber funeral
Is this the wave of the future? No, because there is not a wave of the future in funerals and memorialization, there are as many waves as there are families and communities. Listening to what a traditional visitation, viewing, funeral and burial family wants is just as important as listening to what a Second Lifer does. All services need to be about the person who was lost and those left behind whether traditional or out of this world.

For more on this topic, visit:
Virtual Funeral Part 2
How to Deal with Death Online


Anonymous said...

In today's busy schedule where life does not stop for anyone, mourning the demise of a near and dear one has even become difficult; virtual tribute services are definitely the order of the day.Stories like that of
Caleb Booker's might sound a little odd, but socializing at funeral's is also a part of our civil society.

Dale said...

Even a virtual funeral can be done nowadays because of technology. I think it's great, but the thing is it's still different to personally extend your condolences to the family.

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