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Funeral homes offering webcasts of memorial services

The $12-billion funeral industry is increasingly making online-video streaming available to customers. The option enables friends and relatives of the deceased to tune in to services on the Internet if they can't attend in person.

July 31, 2011|By Shan Li, Los Angeles Times

During the memorial service for Hondros, colleagues and friends from as far away as Afghanistan, South Korea, South Africa and Libya not only watched the live stream but left comments in an online chat room.

When Hondros' fiancee, Christina Piaia, read from a love letter she had originally planned to open at their August wedding in that same church, the chat room lit up.

"Christina, you are strong. Wow. Thank you," wrote one viewer. Another wrote, "this is soooo sad."

O'Connor Mortuary in Laguna Hills began offering streaming in June partly as a reaction to a tight economy. People are comparison shopping for everything, co-owner Neil O'Connor said, including caskets and funeral arrangements. The funeral home has done 14 webcasts.

"The ability to webcast is just one more way to differentiate from the competition," O'Connor said. "When people hear of the service, they usually agree to it right away."

However, as with all technology, things can go wrong.

When Corazon Miranda Zarate of Los Angeles died in May at age 59, her family decided to webcast the service from Forest Lawn. The Zarate clan has family and friends flung across the world in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Britain and elsewhere, daughter Cheryl Zarate said.

"We knew it was important for family to somehow witness and be part of the service," she said. "But especially those in the Philippines or in Third World countries, it was incredibly hard for them to get a visa on short notice to come to America."

Zarate used Facebook and email to invite people to the stream. But right before the service, she got word of a technical problem, and ended up having to send Facebook messages to relatives overseas that the video wasn't going to be streamed live after all.

"It just added to an already stressful, emotional day," Zarate said. But the webcast was preserved online for 60 days. So far, 105 viewers have watched it in 25 U.S. cities and eight countries. For a week after the funeral, Zarate's father watched a part of the service every morning.

"It became part of the mourning process for him," she said.

shan.li@latimes.com

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