Gravestones offer the basic information about the deceased — name, date of birth, date of death and perhaps a Bible verse or poem. But a British company is now offering a way to bring memorials into the social-media age.
For about $580, Chester Pearce Associates, a funeral home in Dorset, England, will put a small plaque engraved with a quick-response matrix barcode on your gravestone. Anyone interested can “read” the code with a smartphone or tablet and call up a Web page with the person's biography, obituary, photos and even video, giving a richer look at the life of the deceased. Friends and family members can add their own tributes to the page.
Some funeral homes in America started a similar scheme last year. The idea behind the codes is simple. “It is about keeping the memory of someone alive,” says Stephen Nimmo, managing director Chester Pearce Associates. “This man or woman really did something — these are the people they knew, these are their family, this is where they went. You can learn a lot more about people than what you see on the stone.”
One of the funeral home's first customers was Gill Tuttiett, whose husband, Timothy, died from heart failure. “Tim was quite outward-going and game for anything,” she said. “I think this is the way forward and Tim would have wanted that, and it's making a process that's hard possibly easier.”
The codes can be added to existing memorials, allowing someone to visit George Orwell's grave, for instance, and get access to details of his life, works and ideas. They can also be added to historical buildings.
Q: What's your take on this use of technology? Is it indeed the way forward? Or should the markings on the grave stone, and the minister's funeral comments to gathered mourners, suffice?
The way forward, eh? Maybe so, and I suppose here is yet another instance of modern technology enabling us to do more. But down deep, I really don't care. And I suspect that after some initial excitement about what can be done with this new technology, there will be a gradual ho-hum factor kicking in.
Simply because we can do something doesn't mean we'll continue to do that something. I am certainly not opposed on religious grounds, nor do I think the dead are being exploited.
Also, I must confess that I do read tombstones if I'm in a cemetery, and I've even heard of a course that seminarians can take on the theology of what is written on 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century tombstones. So why not get more info if we want it, and want to pay for it? It might be interesting to learn if W.C. Fields really did say, “All in all, I'd really rather be in Philadelphia.”
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
I think it’s great. It honors and celebrates a life, and in the aftermath of death, the process of creating the page gives loved ones a concrete means of closure — something to actually do with their grief, and a catalyst for the tears that need to be cried. And I, for one, would be delighted not to have my graveside comments be the only way, the only time, a person’s life is summed up. (Can you say “pressure”?)
It also acts as a social leveler, so that we might see and hear the life stories not only of “famous people … who made a name for themselves and … were honored in their generations, the pride of their times,” but also the stories of those un-famous folks who lived good, steady, beautiful lives, “whose deeds should not be forgotten … and their glory never blotted out” (see Ben Sira 44:1-14). There’s something lovely about being able to walk along and visit George Orwell’s monument, and hear his famous story, and then at the very next grave, honor the full life of, say, a great-grandmother whose primary fame was the gazillion loaves of banana-nut bread she made every Christmas for her family and friends.
Of course, if this means of honoring someone who’s died becomes the norm, it might put pressure on families or bereaved spouses to come up with the perfect summation of their loved one’s life and character. I know that businesses already exist who will help you create that digital memory page — with, of course, escalating prices as you add more bells and whistles and slick professionalism. This could easily become just one more obligation and burden for grieving families, another component of the financial racket that weddings and funerals have become; but that’s another article.
In the meantime, the only downside is: I guess I have to figure out how to work that barcode scanner app on my phone. Sigh. Fine.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge
This is an interesting concept and it seems in keeping with the desire to honor loved ones who have made their transition into the next plane of life.
Of course, it would be the families' choice on how public they wanted to be about the life and achievements of their loved one.
I can even imagine that an individual could give such a directive in their personal will, if they chose to be that specific, prior to their death.
The whole purpose of having a “Celebration of Life” (memorial service) is to honor a life well lived. The bar code information on a headstone or grave marker is just another way of saying: “This dear one lived, was loved by many, and their life mattered.”
Rev Jeri Linn
Unity Church of the Valley
I am all for the sharing of stories and other information about those who have died. In fact, one of the things I encourage at memorial services at which I officiate is the opportunity for people to recall and share memories about the person whose life is being celebrated and even show videos of important life events. I believe that such sharing is vital to the grieving process and for the wellbeing of those who have lost a friend or loved one. I am convinced that technology can, and should, be used for lots of vital and appropriate tasks. But I am not persuaded about the value of sharing personal information about people via matrix barcodes attached to gravestones.
I believe person-to-person communication is the best way to share such personal information. That process is the way that emotional connections are made and solace can be offered and received. For the facts about a person’s life, we can go to a website or blog, not to a gravesite. Gravestone inscriptions, in their brevity, allow us to engage with our own feelings and connections with those we have lost in the sanctity of our minds and hearts, not with a technological device.
However, I am aware that each of us processes and reacts to the experience of pain and loss differently, so I expect there are some people for whom a matrix barcode could provide things they want and value. Those people may wish to purchase the device now being marketed in the U.K. But I prefer connections with other humans and the divine as a way of dealing with my grief and loss. There are some experiences that I don’t believe technology can adequately replicate.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta, CA
My primary concern about these gravestone barcodes is the likelihood that the technology will very quickly become outdated and thus inaccessible to most people. But if long-term general access can be provided, this additional biographical information is a beautiful way to honor a loved one who passed away.
I suspect that the most vital information about the vast majority of people who pass away has already been stored in the hearts of their loved ones. It’s instantly accessed through our memories, any time of day, anywhere we go. They have permanently imparted their DNA to us through the way their words and examples have influenced the way we live today. In effect, we create our own memorials by the way we influence others. Jesus Christ our lord certainly did that.
A few final thoughts on memorials and permanence. People’s souls are permanent. Every person ever created will live eternally either in heaven or hell. God’s word, the Bible, stands forever. Whether it’s spoken from the pulpit, at the graveside or inscribed on the gravestone, it will be forever true — even if people forget it. And the most important person of all, God our Creator, will never forget or lose his own. Jesus said: “This is the will of my father, that everyone who beholds the son and believes in him may have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). It’s wisest to seek permanence in the things God promises.
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
I’ve been mildly investigating my genealogy, and sometimes it seems overwhelming. Things dead-end, records were burned in the big fire of 1800-something, and nobody in the immediate family seems to contribute much. But what a service to have information about the deceased at your fingertips? With a monitored online Wiki-eulogy, information could be posted from distant relatives globally. You could learn about family history, significant predecessors and descendants, and fascinating details about the person who now rests after a lifetime of activity. How great would it be to scan gravestones and get all the info you desired?
At most funerals over which I preside, a giant photograph the family thinks best represents their dearly departed gets displayed, and I spend half my message synopsizing the person’s history. But wouldn’t it be honoring to have that greatly enriched at the resting place? Why not a YouTube video, even?
If I knew of my impending doom, I’d love to be able to have input regarding my generational contribution. I may not have won the Nobel Prize or the Medal of Honor, but what if I wrote for a local paper, or led a group of people in a nearby assembly called a church? I’d kind of like my visitors to know this stuff about me. It’s a bit expensive now, but eventually it’ll be cheaper and a matter of just affixing a sticker, perhaps. One day our graves will be non-ocupado, but for now, “this is your life.”
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise” (1Th 4:16 NIV).
The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
The use of websites and QR codes are good ways to remember our loved ones.
Through sharing memories and feelings, we can recapture the life, and even some of the personality, of that person. Information, photos and comments on websites can aid us in remembering and help us share memories of our lost loves.
Social media and new technology can be turned to good use when it serves to remind us of the people we love and shows us snapshots of the lives of those loved ones.
Why, this sounds like a lovely idea. You’ll hear no theological objections from me. A life well-lived has the power to uplift others. It’s why we tell the tales and thumb through the scrapbooks and keep the videos. We have never said that death has the last word.
There are some mild etiquette-related cautions, to be sure. Some are concerned that the QR code will end up tagging some of your more ignominious photos a la Facebook, so that we find ourselves mocked by our stupidest antics, even in death. Technically speaking, however, we will have transcended the whole concept of humiliation by that point, so perhaps it doesn’t matter. As Miss Manners might point out, if someone is to stand at your funeral and share your most embarrassing moment (or record it on your digital tombstone), he or she will be revealing much more about themselves than about you.
A logistical caution, as one Guardian writer notes, is that the technology itself is of limited duration, and after a decade or two, trying to access information using a QR code will be as handy as looking for a drive that will read your floppy disks. But at $580, I don’t suppose we should expect eternal memory access. Alas — digital memory, like life itself, is ephemeral.
The Rev. Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church
I find it ironic that the most important part of a person's life is represented as a dash between two dates on a gravestone. And I've often wondered, especially when visiting historic cemeteries, who the person really was and what their life was like.
I'm all for the innovative use of new technologies when they add something beneficial to our lives. In this case, being able to put a quick–response matrix barcode on a gravestone that would allow interested visitors to learn more about the person’s biography is a wonderful new application of that technology.
I think it could make a positive contribution on contemporary gravestones, as well as on historic sites. I have a personal experience where adding this technology to explain the history and honor the memory of the deceased person would have been appropriate.
A dear Israeli friend, General Eram Shimon, recently passed away. He was a general in the Six-day War. Because he was an orthodox Jew, he had to be buried within three days of his death. Many of his friends could not make it to his memorial service. It would be great to have something on his gravesite that shared his rich history, and his contribution to the founding of his nation.
Pastor Ché Ahn
Jewish tradition holds a favorable view toward any memorial that brings respect and admiration to the departed. Ensuring that the memory of the dead remains alive today is a noble undertaking, and is especially important because it can inspire our youth to emulate the positive actions of their ancestors.
Properly remembering departed relatives and friends can become a challenge as the days turn to months and the years become decades. It is therefore imperative that in addition to good ideas like offering a barcode on gravestones to provide detailed information on the deceased, we incorporate into our lives special times when we focus on our eternal spiritual connection with those who have passed on to the next world.
To that end, Jewish custom mandates that several times a year — most notably on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, which will be celebrated this coming Wednesday — we gather in synagogue and recite a special memorial prayer, called Yizkor, in which we recall how important the departed are to us.
Powerful moments such as these serve to remind us that we are all mortal beings who form part of a chain of continuity that began with those who came before, continues through us, and will be perpetuated by our children, who will carry the torch of morality and justice to the next generation.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center