I ‘attended’ my first Zoom funeral this week.
No funeral is like any other, just as no life is. In some ways this one was more intense and raw, more emotionally intimate than many I have experienced before because it was so different. There is nothing rote about this. There is nothing familiar to provide a guide rail through the emotions. We mourners are gathering in a new, unfamiliar, challenging way and that is a testament to our collective will not only to persist through grief but through our upended lives. We grieve not only our loss but our inability to grieve in the proper, layered-upon ways that are firm under our feet because they have been hallowed through centuries or millennia.
In these ways the experience and ritual were redeeming and meaningful in ways I could scarcely have imagined for something so disembodied, so tech-formatted and prefab as a Zoom call. And yet it was deeply, deeply dystopic. The visuals had the feel of a film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel. Fuzzy, distant visuals meshing with loss and fear. The most intimate experiences mediated through the most impersonal technologies. An iPhone filming the event suddenly knocked off kilter looking into the sky. The dark reality that we are on the run from a virus that has gotten the better of us, which has beaten and humiliated us, beaten our technology. That is why we are not there.
No one knows quite how to conduct these events. They are ad hoc, made up on the fly. The errors – the shaky visuals, momentary losses of connectivity, the obstructed views – make it real. They also make you feel cheated. They make you feel the departed has been cheated. There is no touch, just a shaky distant livecast, experiencing one of life’s most basic transitions, as it were, through a visual straw.
The essence of dystopic fiction is the idea that things can go horribly wrong and have no clear path to getting better. It is a one way street. But life, real life, is about persisting and finding a way back.