FREDERICTON – About a year ago, Cory Stephens suddenly lost a good friend.
“I didn’t know he was sick. He was always in good health. He lived in southern Ontario,” says Stephens.
“He was one of those guys that every time you meet him, it’s like you just saw him yesterday. You may not see him for 16 to 18 months at a time, but as soon as you got together, it’s just where you left off.”
He found out about his death a day late, and he was already on Grand Manan Island because his mother was sick. He had to miss his funeral. His mother also passed away a few weeks later.
“In the span of a month, I went through what it was like to not be at somebody’s funeral that you cared about or be able to contribute in a way,” says Stephens. “Then I got a chance to see how many people really couldn’t come to my mother’s funeral. Whether they’re connected to the digital space of not, your branch of people are so far out there.”
It was through this experience that Stephens came up with Forget Me Not Ceremonies, a company that offers a fully automated system that allows funeral homes to live stream ceremonies while also allowing guests tuning in from away to comment and share memories and photos in real-time.
Forget Me Not sends the funeral home the camera and helps with the installation, which also includes a backup device. Once the system is set up, the funeral home can set up a live-stream in just a few clicks.
“They set the time, add the funeral program and hit ‘enter.’ That’s it,” says Stephens.
The software automatically starts streaming 10 minutes before the service. It offers a virtual “waiting room” where people can upload photos, add comments, sign a guest book, and view the program and obituary. Virtual attendees have up to three days after the ceremony to add new comments, photos, and content.
“Once it goes live, there you are right in the chapel,” says Stephens. “You can message amongst each other, you can see who put up photos … and you can make really great connections.”
After the ceremony, the family is then able to see the contributions of the virtual attendees. They will then have the option to export the photos and comments. Forget Me Not also offers a service where it can automatically format photos and comments into a book. The family also has control over who gets the link to watch the ceremony. It could be sent to only a few people, or they are free to share it publically on social media.
“It allows the family to connect with others in their loved ones lives they might not have met, or haven’t seen in a while,” says Jason Embleton, vice-president of Forget Me Not Ceremonies.
For those joining virtually, is also can provide a sense of closure, no matter where they are.
“It gives you a chance to participate. You don’t necessarily do it live when it happens,” says Embleton. “You got three days, so you can do it in the comfort of your own home or wherever you are. You can use your computer, your laptop, your tablet, your phone to access it. It gives you that flexibility.”
Live streaming funerals isn’t something new. In fact, a lot of funeral homes offer some kind of streaming service. Stephens says what makes Forget Me Not Ceremonies different is it goes beyond a simple video feed by providing an interactive experience.
“We’ve gone beyond the limitations of video and audio. We’ve made an experience. Anybody can put a camera up anywhere and see a feed from somewhere else,” he says.
“You hear the music and you hear the words with the live stream. With ours, you hear all of that, plus you also get the opportunity to interact … People are communicating and they can communicate as this is happening back and forth,” adds Embleton.
Forget Me Not Ceremonies has some contracts in the works, but they are not announcing those publically yet. But Stephens says they have received positive feedback from the funeral homes they’ve chatted with already.
One of the funeral homes they’ve chatted with is Bishop’s Funeral Home in Fredericton, which has recently undergone a big renovation. Owner Jim Bishops says he predicts platforms like the one Forget Me Not is offering will eventually become standard in the industry.
“You’ve got families spread out so much now that’s becoming more and more the norm … it’s becoming more standard where you can’t get all the family together,” says Bishop. “I can see where a tool like this is going to become a lot more common.”
That being said, he admits that right now, many may see it as a little “different” for the industry.
“We have our Facebook page, we have our website and we have different outreach programs that we use through social media,” says Bishop. “This concept is a little different. It’s something that’s a different take on what we ordinarily do.”
This is something the Forget Me Not team is well aware of.
“It’s like cremation,” says Embleton. “Twenty years ago, five per cent of people were cremated in certain provinces. Now there’s over 90 per cent. Over a period of time, once people understand what this is and how it works, that it really does make a difference.”
But with a team of around 12 people across Canada, many of whom will be working on growing sales country-wide, they are confident funeral homes will see the value in their software.
“It’s going to be hard to judge this, but we think we’re going to go grow very quickly. But we got to make sure we don’t grow too fast,” says Stephens.