Frieda Lubkeman knew last fall that ovarian cancer was going to take her life. So she planned her funeral.
The longtime music lover selected the pieces and planned choir and solo performances, said her daughter-in-law, Jodi Lubkeman.
Then came the pandemic. Many families had to settle for mini-funerals with groups of 10 or less. Larger memorial services were postponed or canceled.
Lubkeman, 89, died May 12.
Her funeral was held Wednesday with dozens of loved ones attending and including nearly all the music she had planned.
Under partly sunny skies, attendees sat in about 50 cars in the parking lot of St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church on Mount Zion Avenue. An unknown number watched from farther away on computers or smartphones.
Before the service, a small group of family members held a video visitation online using the Zoom app, which allowed private conversations. The family then exited the church and sat in a semicircle of chairs as the Rev. Brad Urlaub conducted the service, flanked by flowers, trees and the church building.
Attendees tuned into an FM radio station to hear the service. Meanwhile, anyone could see the service livestreamed online.
“We wanted to be able to uphold the wishes Frieda had for the celebration of life service and get as many people involved as possible because she did touch so many lives,” Urlaub said.
Urlaub is to be credited with engineering the technological setup, Jodi Lubkeman said. He started using BoxCast software about 18 months ago so shut-ins could see and hear church services. That came in handy when the coronavirus came along.
BoxCast allows the video stream to be cast onto Facebook, YouTube and a link on the church website, Urlaub said.
Ryan Lenzendorf of Henke-Clarson Funeral Home, which handled funeral arrangements, said the funeral home has used Facebook Live to allow loved ones to see services during the pandemic, and one other Janesville church has had drive-in services like this one.
The pandemic has frustrated families already enduring grief, but they have been understanding of the need for rules, as well, Lenzendorf said.
The technology on Wednesday allowed Frieda’s grandson, Noah Welhouse, to give the eulogy remotely from Chicago. He remembered Frieda’s laugh and the way she lit up a room.
Frieda was known for her ever-present joyfulness, Urlaub told the congregation. She would greet everyone entering the church for services, shaking hands and hugging those she knew well.
Not everything went as planned. The service was delayed as Urlaub, who acted as his own tech crew, worked the equipment to get everything started.
Urlaub opened the service praying that God would continue to help with the technology.
The wind made a rumbling crackle in Urlaub’s microphone. One recorded soloist’s song couldn’t be played, and instead of the church choir singing “Gaelic Benediction,” as Frieda planned it, one choir member had recorded it.
The hum of tires and rumble of diesel engines could be heard from the nearby Interstate, but bird songs were also audible.
The benediction came near the end of the service, sung by a soloist. Most people know the words: “May the road rise to meet you … Until we meet again, my friend, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
Urlaub blessed the family and attendees with a gloved hand.
As Frieda’s granddaughter Raea Lubkeman’s flute music played, family members stood and turned, waving to the rows of cars as they began to leave the parking lot.
It was a funeral without the up-close greetings and hugs that Frieda so loved to give others, but it was as close as possible to the service she had planned.