Because of the coronavirus, a handful of people attended the funeral for Sam Melamed. But a lot more people had the comfort of feeling like they were there.
There’ve been more than 1700 views of a Facebook livestream of his graveside service Monday at Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge.
For mourners who couldn’t be present, it was a real-time, virtual front-row seat. They could see the red roses atop his casket and hear the birds and traffic on Montrose Avenue.
Mr. Melamed, a hotelier, died last Thursday in Rockford, where he’d moved to be closer to his son, Harvey. He was 94.
His daughter, Susan Rentschler, watched his funeral from California. His siblings, Bessie Bernard, Diana Burn and Harry Melamed, were in virtual attendance from Florida. Other relatives viewed it from his hometown of Montreal.
“They all were able to watch the stream and feel included,” said his son, Earl, who was present. “I thought it was really a wonderful thing. . . we were thrilled.”
“They are loved and they are supported, although not physically, by all those around the country who are watching this service virtually, which is a remarkable technological achievement,” Rabbi Stephen Hart said at the graveside. “So no matter where we may reside this afternoon, no matter what our location or our physical space, we are bound together by the love that we share for Sam Melamed.”
Worship services have been getting streamed for a while. So have funerals for well-known figures ranging from Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer to boxer Muhammad Ali to singer Aretha Franklin. And it’s not unusual for funeral homes or videographers to record services and post them online after the fact.
But in response to guest limits and travel restrictions from the coronavirus, more funerals are getting livestreamed, according to Matt Baskerville, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association. “If they’re not doing it, they’re working on it,” said Baskerville, who operates Reeves & Baskerville funeral homes in Will and Grundy counties.
“It’s a way for friends and family who are unable to be there to partake and have closure,” Baskerville said.
Mr. Melamed’s services were the third to be streamed since March 17 by the Goldman Funeral Group, which has locations in Buffalo Grove and Skokie.
“This has been a really powerful tool for families to use to allow family, friends and colleagues to be able to grieve and actually be part of the service,” said funeral director Irwin Goldman.
His son, Benjamin, also a funeral director, handled the stream with a cellphone on a tripod and a mic at the lectern to increase the volume for anyone who spoke. “While one phone is filming the livestream,” Benjamin Goldman said, “I’m in my car using my phone as a hotspot monitoring the stream on my computer. And I have a third cellphone where people can call if they have any questions or any questions about how to find the stream.”
At A.A. Rayner & Sons, the recommended 10-person limit for public gatherings “might be [only] the six pallbearers and four family members,” said Charles S. Childs Jr., a partner in the business, which has locations on the South and West Sides. “It’s so emotional when you inform families making arrangements.”
Childs is setting up funeral streaming. “I have my son [Louis] working on that now as we speak,” he said.
“The important thing,” Earl Melamed said, “is to keep everybody safe.”