We live in a world that is so vastly different to the one even I grew up in. When I had finished high school (year 12) the internet didn't exist. Nowadays however, my 9 year old frequently says "I could never live without the internet".
When a friend of mine died recently, his Facebook page was transformed. What had been a page of personal memories and reflection became the memorial site for those who knew and loved him; a place where they could share their memories and leave personal messages both to him (the deceased) and his family.
Such social media transformations are increasingly common, especially on Facebook.
"I think we now have to accept that a lot of our grief culture is primarily in the digital space," says Griffith University sociologist, Margaret Gibson, who has conducted extensive research into the nature of death in the online world… “It's no longer the supplementary space for a ritual taking place elsewhere. It is the primary ritual, along with the funeral or the grave and the setting of the gravestone. So, we have to give it equal value, because it's here to stay."
It is an interesting development I believe, as clearly most of my connections with people (outside of conducting funerals of course) are through the online world.
I love the ability this gives Oh My Grief to have an impact in different nations around the world and that anyone, from anywhere,
can access the work we are doing.
I personally have seen the great benefits of social media mourning, but, like the researcher notes below, there can be some down sides which should not be understated.
University of the Sunshine Coast Psychology Honours student; Jessica Blower has researched how people share their grief on Facebook. "We found that individuals who participated in some form of online grief expression on Facebook had higher anxiety and stress than individuals who didn't participate in any online behaviour," Ms. Blower said.
"Basically the deceased never die online; they remain alive forever on Facebook, so if you're trying to negotiate your grief and realise you can't get close to that individual, being able to do so on a daily basis on Facebook is contrary to what you'd expect," she said.
In addition to the risk of the deceased ‘never dying’ on a memorial page, is the lack of ability for the family of the deceased to control what is and what is not being said. Anyone can give their opinion, anyone can potentially say too much and give out details that were not for public knowledge and the list goes on.
In fact, all the issues and risks we see as social media users in general,
can be seen and experienced as online mourners.
I am confident that this social media mourning space will indeed further develop, which is a good thing and in keeping with the times we live in. I would offer the following suggestions (the list will grow as we experience more over the years ahead online) for your consideration:
1. Take extra care in the words you use before posting condolences, as you are opening up your personal message to public opinion and comment.
2. Don’t say too much.
3. Follow up your post with a phone call to the family (and friends), offering your personal support and allowing further one-on-one discussions.
4. Don’t comment on another’s post, regardless of your personal feelings. If you so feel the need, inbox them privately and ensure that you do not use the opportunity as a platform to voice your personal opinion.
5. Please comment below your own thoughts!!
By Steve Morrison