Sittin’ up with the dead … via your PC.

mortuaryMortuary Puts Funerals on Webcasts

In Ireland, they bury people quickly – and now they’re harnessing the speed of the Internet to help families grieve across the globe.

A Northern Ireland mortuary director has launched a pioneering service of broadcasting funerals on its Web site for mourners too distant, ill or busy to make it in person. It’s reckoned to be the first of its kind worldwide.

“We have one camera to give you the perspective of the minister looking out to the congregation, one showing the hearse and cortege of mourners outside, and one that looks like you’re sitting in amidst the mourners,” said Jim Clarke of Clarke & Son undertakers in Newtownards, an eastern suburb of Belfast.

The family-owned firm, founded in 1918 by Clarke’s grandfather, began experimenting with streaming audio and video of funeral services two years ago at its other mortuary and chapel in another nearby suburb, Bangor.

It is launching new software and a suite of cameras at its second funeral home in Newtownards this week – a development that, to the surprise of Clarke, has spurred international interest.

Clarke said more funeral homes should take advantage of the Internet, particularly in places like Ireland, where funerals typically happen within three days of a death – and a tradition of emigration can mean cousins from Calgary to Canberra.

“It used to be that we’d be asked: Is there any chance you can take a tape recording of the service for our friends in Canada? We always did that. Now we can offer so much more,” he said.

About 20 percent of the company’s clients use the Web broadcast, or about 50 funerals so far at the two chapels beside the mortuaries, according to Clarke. It carries no additional charge.

He said the service last year proved invaluable for two brothers – one living in New Zealand, the other in the United States – who had traveled back to Northern Ireland to visit an ill relative who then died.

“They said, ‘There’s no way we can get our wives and families here at such short notice,’ and we had the solution to hand. It really removes a burden for some families,” Clarke said.

Just last week, he said, the funeral home negotiated with an internet service provider in New Zealand to upgrade one woman’s connection temporarily to high-speed broadband so that she could see her sister’s funeral without freezing screens or dropped audio.

Not just anybody can log on to eavesdrop on the grief. The service requires special software downloads and password access controlled by Clarke & Son.

“We’re trying to use the latest technology to help families in a time of need,” Clarke said. “We’re not trying to encourage morbid curiosity. There is far too much of that on the Internet already.”

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