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In death, families can connect online

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MARGATE, Fla. – Can’t make it to the funeral of a loved one or friend because of the distance?

Now all you need is an Internet hookup – and the secure link.

Funeral homes across the country are starting to offer live streaming of memorial services.

When Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., resident Joseph Carmine Musitano died this month, his far-flung family couldn’t attend his memorial service.

The funeral home gave the link to Musitano’s widow who could decide who was invited to the service. The couple’s son, a single father who lives in New Hampshire, decided to use the new technology so he – and scores of family members in Italy – could pay their respects.

“It worked out well; it was surprising the whole concept,” said Joseph Musitano, who watched his father’s service from his home. “You can hear the priest giving his sermon; it was like being there to a great extent. It was as if I was sitting in the gallery watching the whole thing.”

Musitano, 87, who loved playing with the remote control when his family got their first television set from Sears, would have loved it, said his son, Steven Musitano.

“He would have been very happy,” he said. “He’s coming into their homes and they’re paying respect to him.”

Savino-Weissman Funeral Home & Cremation Services in Margate, Fla., ran the live webcast.

“Those who can’t attend, can, in today’s technology,” said Bill Savino, co-owner of the funeral home. “It’s amazing technology.”

The funeral home offers the online streaming for $150. A free DVD is provided, even if a family chose not to pay for the secure link.

The services are available online for 30 days, to accommodate people in other time zones who might not be able to view the service live.

It’s an increasingly popular program at the Palms West Funeral Home in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., as well, said co-owner Julian Almeida. The service costs $195 and includes a DVD. He said the service is especially popular among Hindu and Hispanic clients whose families are in India and Latin America.

“It brings families together,” he said. “They weren’t able to come to this country so they can watch it over the Internet. Sometimes the best they can do to grieve is to do it on the Internet; that’s what the future has brought to us.”

The public’s response has been very positive, said Robert Fells, executive director of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association.

“It’s cutting edge,” he said.

“We have seen an increase,” said Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association in Wisconsin. “It’s something we are seeing more and more, not just in big cities, but in smaller communities and rural communities. As a society were used to logging onto the Internet and using computer technology. That’s spilled over into the funeral service.”

Savino-Weissman co-owner Mark Weissman said not only do friends and family who use the service from out of town; he once hooked up an elderly person confined to a hospital bed up to watch their spouses service.

“It actually connects families at the worst possible time,” said Weissman, who is also a Parkland, Fla., city commissioner.

In most funeral homes, only the service is broadcast since the camera is affixed to the chapel; the burial is not available online.

Funeral experts say this new trend is far from disrespectful since it encourages people to be there, even remotely.

“There is no substitute for being there, being with other family members,” Fells said. “Webcasting cannot substitute for that. But if you just cannot be there for whatever reason, at least now you aren’t shut out of the whole thing.”

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