GriefSpeak: High Tech Takes Its Role in Grieving


Names and Places have been changed

By Dr. Mari Dias

The face of funeral arrangements has evolved; even the choices of burial methods are now wide and varied. Next week I will discuss all these choices and the fact that it is never too early to make arrangements. Today I chose to share a personal experience that I believe will become more common moving forward in the preparation of wakes and funerals.

I entered the wake of Anna, an eighty something year-old woman who, in life was never seen without a cigarette in her mouth and an oxygen tank by her side. It was an expected death and the tone of the room was less than somber. I paused at the kneeler, said the obligatory prayer, and said my goodbyes to Auntie. The first in the receiving line was her sister, a sweet attractive woman struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, but today her mind’s eye was with us. She accepted my condolences with a pleasant smile as I continued along. Next in line were Anna’s two nieces and I spoke with them. I noticed and wondered why a group of people were huddled around the next chair in the receiving line. They all seemed to be looking down as if speaking with a child.

As the small crowd dispersed I was finally able to determine the cause of all the commotion. Sitting in a large, high back upholstered chair of greens and blues was an iPad. I was taken aback, but crouched down to view the screen. The image of Anna’s son addressed me. “Hello, and thank you for coming” he said, via Skype. I remained crouched down with my hands on my knees as I responded “So sorry about your mom.” The iPad was last in the receiving line.

As I mingled through the small crowd of visitors, I overheard the older people complaining, emphatic about not talking to a computer. It seems her son, Ralphie, was currently living in the Philippines and decided that a long, expensive flight was uncalled for, given the threat of Ebola at the time, and the inevitability of his chain-smoking oxygen dependent mother’s death.

Ralphie attended the funeral mass as well. From any vantage point in the church, the image of the iPad held high above a friend’s head was unavoidable. And, given that it was a Catholic mass, the iPad received communion.

I can’t help but wonder if, in the near future, virtual attendance will be de rigueur. Perhaps funeral homes should consider supplying iPads as part of the funeral package along with the traditional DVD of the deceased person’s life.

Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to:

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