Death on Facebook

16 Jan
Death and Facebook

Death and Facebook

Funny, not long ago I was thinking, in a purely random chain of thoughts, about how people use social media- namely blogs and Facebook- to deal with the death of loved ones. And then I experienced the death of a beloved aunt, and I got to put those purely theoretical thoughts into action. We have taken the ancient human instinct for memorializing the dead online, building community and memorials in the wake of sudden deaths.

It is often said that the rituals associated with death- funerals, wakes, obituaries and the like- are about the living, clearly not about the dead (as my Dad says, “I don’t care what you do when I die. I won’t be around!”). So it is that when a loved one dies, many people rush to Facebook to post on the page of the deceased, sharing memories and photos, and in many cases, creating special groups and memorial pages. I found a lovely one here- poor Cheyenne Baez died at the age of 18, and 10,869 people have joined a memorial page in her honor. 74 posts were left in the discussion group “What happened?”. On a smaller scale, I recently saw that a friend of a friend- an acquaintance from college- posted a photo album in homage to his grandfather, and it felt both voyeuristic and like a true honor to view, in about 30 photos, the life of a man I never knew. A young gymnast with a chiseled physique; a wedding photo where the man looked radiant; a beloved grandfather with his grandson on his knee. I felt privileged for the brief peak into the life of another person, a total stranger. Several mutual friends commented on the pictures, saying things like “I remember him well. I’m real sorry, man”. Someone who may have only known the man as Bill’s Grandpa got to see him as a young man. We all got a fuller look at someone’s full life, and people who knew him could commiserate together.

At the ClickZ Search and Social Accelerator Conference in San Francisco last year (with very interesting speakers, highly recommended), I heard a presenter, a sort of Twitter evangelist, state that with the advent of social media, for the first time in history we can leave a digital footprint so that our descendants can see photos and video of us when we were young- decades into the future. It was one of those grand pronouncements you often hear at professional conferences that confounds you, seeming both overly bombastic and insightful at the same time. Think about it: instead of feeling uneasy about leaving a digital footprint in your wake as your photos, thoughts and web postings stay online forever, you could see it as a boon to future generations. Long after we are gone, our descendants, whom we may never know, can see video of us when we were young and vital. What I would give for video of my Great Aunt, proudly wearing her Air Force blues or practicing her French in Paris.

It feels as though the least I can do is post a picture on Facebook of myself with my Aunt from a few Christmases ago, where she looks regal and content. It’s a mini public memorial. Ironic, since my Aunt was a notorious techphobe- she never liked voicemail, and thought the internet was a giant waste of time. She wouldn’t have understood that this medium is helping my parents get out news of her passing, exchange pictures and memories with relatives, and disseminate information on the funeral. I think Aunt Rose would approve.

2 Responses to “Death on Facebook”

  1. Beka January 31, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    I’m sorry to hear about your aunt, but I do know what you mean. I love getting to see the photos of people whom I only knew in their older years when they were young and strutting their stuff. I recently lost my Puerto Rican “abuelita”, and I treasure a photo I have of her with me and my 4 sisters and brother from a few years ago. I wish there were some photos of her on facebook. Can you believe that at 94, she was shy about photos, because she thought she had too many wrinkles? We thought she was beautiful! But her cousin (unknown to her) has a lot of photos from when she was young that her grand-daughter posted on facebook, and they make me so happy to see them. It gives me an idea of what life could have been like for a beautiful young Puerto Rican girl in New York in the 50’s. I’m glad that my friend had the courage to post the pictures.

  2. October 13, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    Excelente Artículo
    Me gustó la manera en que aborda sobre el tema.

    Continuaré visitando esta página para seguir estimulándome sobre el tema.

    Espero sigas escribiendo sobre esto

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