Four webcams and a funeral - death goes high-tech

Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service in central Ohio has gone high-tech with the business of grief: It is one of a growing number of funeral service providers to embrace the web.

Schoedinger is offering live web streaming and archived online video for use by military personnel overseas and others who cannot be present for a loved one's funeral.



It's a way for mourners to take part in the experience without the time and expense of a long-distance trip, especially one arranged on short notice.



"This just allows people to share in the grief and share in the grief experience with everyone," company President Michael Schoedinger said.



The family organising the funeral controls who has access to the private website used for broadcasting. The company offers the service for free but eventually may charge a fee to cover its costs, Schoedinger said.



Funeral directors say better technology and cheaper equipment have prompted more funeral homes to offer webcasting and videotaping services nationwide.

It's also been more appealing as the internet has become part of everyday life for many Americans domestically and abroad, said Ellery Bowker, the president of North Carolina-based Director's Advantage, which specialises in technological products for the funeral industry and debuted its webcasting service last year.



The service allowed one soldier in Iraq to watch his grandmother's funeral in North Carolina, Bowker said. In another case, comrades of a soldier who died overseas were able to view his memorial in the U.S.



The use of funeral webcasting is an emerging trend but hasn't been tracked statistically, though some companies have offered those services for years, said Jessica Koth, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Director's Association.



Webcasting companies are also jumping in, offering packages to funeral homes that include tripods, cameras with microphones, and cables and cords, either for lease or purchase outright. Some ceremonies can even be webcast to iPods.



The Jenkins-Soffe Funeral Chapels and Cremation Centre in suburban Salt Lake City began offering funeral webcasts about a decade ago as a way to include overseas missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their relatives' funerals, owner Kurt Soffe said.



The centre's funeral packages, which include webcasting, video and audio recording, typically cost about $300 more than other packages. About one in every 50 funerals at the centre opts for the multimedia, he said.



"I think that it will become much more popular in the years ahead - much more popular in the sense that more funeral homes will offer it," Soffe said. "Whether more families will select it and choose it, I don't know, because there is really no substitute for coming together as a family."

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