Original Art by Roni Kwan

Processing Grief Through a Zoom Screen

by Ava Lacoon-Robinson

Reflections on the night of the 18th of Feburary 2021 from my bedroom floor.  

Tonight, I went to my fifth zoom funeral in the past six months for a loved one I lost to COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. When I ended the call on the fourth funeral, I thought it would be my last. But it is only getting worse. I had to watch as one of my parents mourned their father and best friend through a television screen in our loungeroom within half a year.  

At my workplace, I deal with customers lecturing me about masks, trying to convince me that this pandemic is a hoax. But I know they think that because they are the lucky ones. They have not had the traumatic experience of watching livestreams of their friends and family crying, unable to sit on the pews with them and hold their hands. Because if they did, they would not argue with a retail worker over basic public safety.  

Last year, my mum created a beautiful shrine in our kitchen to all the people we have lost in an attempt to grieve properly. We have now had to adorn two tables, each with pictures, lit candles and burning incense. We are clutching at straws for any comfort in rituals. Our beloved friend, who has also just passed, encouraged my family to collect the ash from the incense we burned for my grandfather and scatter it into the sea. 

This is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. No one should have to rely on the Internet as their only connection to closure and grieving. There is no time to be filled with warmth while sharing memories of the deceased. When the live feed is cut, you are once again reminded that you are sitting on the floor of your home, left with nothing but damp tissues.  

Throughout the service you find yourself translating your grief into frustration and anger towards the other people viewing via zoom. You are infuriated that people could be so inconsiderate as to forget to mute themselves, and block the only sound channel from the live cast of the ceremony. You find yourself agitated because you can see another person is lying down on their bed eating snacks, something which feels inherently disrespectful to the grieving family. It’s an internal battle and incredibly wrong to judge each other’s grieving processes, especially in a traumatic time. I hate that I found myself enraged at an 80-year-old woman for forgetting to mute her microphone. How is she meant to function when she is mourning her childhood best friend without anyone to provide her physical touch or comfort? I know this because my grandmother is in the process of mourning her husband of 30 years alone. Everyone is too worried to visit her, infect her and potentially lose her too. It is a tug of war between comfort in the present and preventing another funeral in the future; its gruesome but it’s what runs through all our minds.  

In England right now, the government only permits thirty people to attend a funeral, or less for those who died from complications as a result of COVID-19. I have been privy to many conversations of family members trying to decide who is the ‘most’ deserving to attend a mutual loved one’s funeral. Funerals are limited to no more than forty minutes. It is hard to avoid the guilt of cutting the celebration of a loved one’s life short, as covid-19 did the same to them.  

There were so many deaths in the UK, that on the 18th of February 2021, the national health service listed COVID-19 as the cause of passing on 361 death certificates that day. When I talk to my friends in the Uk, many of them have experienced the same losses. But no one in Australia seems to understand the everyday reality and anxiety of having loved ones in the UK. 

It’s scary thinking about the future and when my next zoom funeral will be. Who else won’t be at the airport gate when I eventually go back to the UK, if I ever do? 

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