Neal Schneider is not a YouTube sensation.
He’s not a social media influencer.
He’s just a funeral home director.
But at a time when the national COVID-19 crisis has hit home in Wisconsin in the form of government-mandated bans on crowds and increased social distancing, Schneider said he is looking for ways people can grieve over the loss of a family member or friend from a distance.
On Tuesday night, Schneider posted a video asking the public for support on the video-sharing social media site YouTube. Schneider sought to garner a big enough following (YouTube requires at least 1,000 subscriptions) that the site will allow him to livestream funeral services hosted by his Janesville funeral home business, Schneider Funeral Services.
By Wednesday afternoon, Schneider’s video had garnered more than 1,300 subscribers, making his plans for funeral livestreams a go.
The funeral director’s plan is a response to social distancing and an unprecedented crackdown Gov. Tony Evers imposed Tuesday on gatherings of more than 10 people.
The crowd ban has funeral homes across Wisconsin scrambling to handle funeral services and visitations that could draw large numbers of people. Funeral homes, in some cases upon request of families, have begun scheduling most services privately to limit crowds to sizes that can be managed under the state’s crowd ban.
It has left some who are grieving to deal with the added stress of a public health crisis that precludes large funeral gatherings, either because of government restrictions or their own health concerns.
“I completely agree with keeping our loved ones who could be affected protected. We’re doing our absolute best to keep those loved ones safe,” Schneider said.
Some families, Schneider said, have deferred large-scale celebrations of life for a later date when COVID-19 crisis might have subsided.
Schneider, who has been involved in the funeral home business since he was a young adult, said the coronavirus crisis, among other isolating affects, is making it harder for people to deal with grief.
Even at private services where families are allowed under the state crowd ban to file in 10 at a time, visitations have become an almost surreal experience in crowd control.
“I haven’t slept much in the last couple of days because that’s been our No. 1 objective, being able to have families have an avenue on how to grieve. If we take the funeral out of the picture, that can be such a hard way. No one’s actually going to the proper steps or the process of grieving,” Schneider said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, it appeared all Schneider would need is a webcam and an internet connection to YouTube to manage either public or private live webcasts of funeral services.
Schneider had been prepared to videotape services and post them to his website, but he said for now he prefers to have livestream services as an option.
He said families planning two upcoming funerals have been waiting to learn if he would be able to offer livestreaming.
“This is about what we can offer the living. People can come pay respects whether they can be there in person or not at this difficult time,” Schneider said. “They can start moving forward with the grieving process.”