A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom is a new feature of our lives — and, now, of our rituals surrounding death. GPB’s Virginia Prescott lost her mother to the disease in 2020 and shared the awkward, but surprisingly gratifying experience of memorializing a life on Zoom for NPR’s Here & Now.

Patsy with her great-granddaughter, Emma Turcotte

Patsy with her great-granddaughter, Emma Turcotte

Credit: Virginia Prescott

I never imagined that the scary virus that hit the country a year ago would take my mother, Patricia Healy Prescott. I certainly never envisioned holding her memorial online. I had barely even heard of Zoom before the pandemic. But, like in so many aspects of our disrupted professional and personal lives, we made do. We chose to mark her loss just a few days before Christmas while the embers of grief were still hot. 

There were a few Zoom bungles and plenty of tears, but no formal service, no shared sandwich platters and none of the meandering toasts that are a tradition in our Irish-Catholic family. Instead, we were an array of poorly lit but familiar faces taking part in a ritual as old as humankind itself. 

After months of isolation, it felt surprisingly rich and comforting to hear in one place — a computer screen — all the private conversations normally overheard at a wake or shiva. We felt courage and connection by sharing stories of a life that began when the radio felt like magic. And it was magic. A COVID-imposed adaptation allowed us to mourn together, apart.

If I've learned one thing during the last year, it's that sharing our sadness, loneliness and anxiety can be liberating. It connects us to parts of others we tend to hide. I share this experience in that spirit.