Up until this point I have used Skype to stay in touch with my family these past two years I’ve been overseas. I also wrote about having used Skype in the classroom to connect to other students around the world.
I know that it is just a tool, but today I truly witnessed the power of Skype. Yes, it can help us stay in touch with family and friends; yes, it has educational benefits; but it can potentially have profound emotional value as well.
You see, today I attended my Grandfather’s Funeral via Skype.
My Grandfather died on Tuesday. This was expected and for the best. He had Parkinson’s and dementia and his quality of life was deteriorating daily. But my Grandfather was a kind man and he was loved by many, so it was very sad to lose him.
This past weekend my Mother told me that they were taking him off his medications and were letting nature take it’s course, making sure he was comfortable and felt no pain. During our weekly Skype call she prepared me for the worst and told me the Doctors said it was just a matter of days.
It’s been a hard week. I felt helpless and isolated, so far from my family. I couldn’t help my Mom with all the arrangements, I couldn’t give my Grandma a hug to comfort her, I couldn’t say my last goodbyes while I held my Grandpa’s hand.
This was the first time in two years that I felt true frustration at being separated from my family.
I did what I could do from here. I Skyped with my Mother daily for updates, and we emailed back and forth. I called my Grandma the ‘old fashioned’ way because her nursing home didn’t have a wireless connection my Mom could connect to her laptop. I had Mom put the phone to Grandpa’s ear so I could tell him I love him and miss him. He couldn’t speak anymore at this point but the nurses say he could hear my voice. I sent flowers.
When Grandpa finally did pass away I offered to represent the grandchildren and write something to say at the service. I tried to think of a creative way to do that from across the ocean. I didn’t like the idea of someone else reading my words – I wanted them to be just right. I decided on a podcast. It was so easy using drop.io. (I got the idea from Richard Byrnes’s post on podcasting, I already used drop.io but it was my first time using the ‘voice mail’ feature.)
All this still didn’t feel like enough. I apologised to my Mom again and again for not being there to help and support the family. We talked about how I could be ‘present’ at the service. (My Mother preferred the term ‘Celebration of Life’ rather than funeral.) She decided to check out the wireless connection at the funeral home to see if it was possible for me to attend the service by Skyping in on her laptop.
So, as it turns out, today I spent nearly two hours on Skype, being passed around from family member to family member before the service, waving at distant relatives, ‘sitting’ between my Mom and Dad in the front row so I had a good ‘view’ of the proceedings that followed.
It was the next best thing to actually being there. I could not only hear all the familiar voices, but I could see all the familiar faces too! I could hear the sniffles and sobs during the prayers, the laughter and the murmurs of agreements during the eulogies. My own short podcast eulogy was played from my brother’s iphone which he had hooked up to the main sound system.
Today I was able to have an emotional connection with my family and take part in a ceremony that a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able, simply because of geography. I understand that Skype is just the tool I used and that the real reason I had this opportunity is my Mother’s deep desire for me to be present and involved, a funeral home in rural Ontario actually having a wireless connection good enough to support the video call, and my brother taking ownership to test and make sure everything worked.
Skype was just the tool, but I can’t think of another tool that is free or as easy to use. Skype enabled me to be present and involved in my Grandfather’s Funeral. I was able to support and comfort my family. The peace of mind given to me by being able to make this emotional connection has been a priceless gift.
Thank you Skype.