How Facebook Changes the Way We Mourn Death (Part 2)
(Note: the is the second post in a four-part series about Facebook and death.)
Back in March of this year, Technorati reported that there are already over 30 million dead people with Facebook profiles. Can you imagine how that number will skyrocket over the next 10 years?
Social media adds an entirely new dimension to the mourning process. Facebook is a great social utility, but how does its utility change after a profile-owning friend passes away?
First, we take a look at the positive side of Facebook as a mechanism for mourning.
1. Facebook gives us a new way to mourn. I hate wakes and funerals. I always have. The idea of viewing a dead body — no matter how gracefully preserved — creeps me out. When I do attend such services, I tend to avoid the body and just chat with other wake-goers. I look at pictures. I watch the now-common PowerPoint presentation about the deceased’s life. I share memories with others in attendance.
But they’re still very uncomfortable events. Not everyone, especially us anxious-types, can handle a wake or funeral without a breakdown. At my friend Bubba’s wake, I got in line to walk up to the closed casket and then greet his crying family members. As I neared the front of the line, I realized that I couldn’t do it. My knees grew weak and I started shaking, so I booked it to the bathroom and plunged my face under cold running water in the sink.
I guess I’m not a very good public mourner, but that doesn’t mean I want to mourn alone. Facebook provides us with the opportunity to connect and share memories via computer-mediated communication — a form of communication that allows us to selectively self-edit before we post. We’re far less likely to say the “wrong thing” if we have time to thoughtfully compose our words for someone’s Facebook wall.
2. The profile page of a deceased friend is something like a mobile grave site. I haven’t yet visited Bubba’s grave. In a way, I think it would be too emotional. Also, his grave site only reminds me of one thing: his death.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things — some online, some offline — that remind me of Bubba. There are restaurants where we used to hang out until the wee hours sipping coffee with our group of friends on summer nights in high school. There are old blog entries of mine (and his) where we recounted our weird and gas-wasting road trips together.
(Case in point: a blog entry where I detail how Bubba and I tried to visit as many Sheetz conveniences stores as possible in a 24-hour period. Why did we do that? I don’t know. We were 17 and one of us had a car. At age 17, that’s about all the reason in the world you’d need.)
And, of course, there’s Facebook. Visiting Bubba’s Facebook page allows me to see photos of him in his prime — as the fun-loving guy I want to remember him as. Visiting a grave site would just allow me to see a chunk of stone with his name on it.
3. It allows us to connect with other mourners. Handling death alone can be a very scary thing. But Facebook gives you the opportunity to ascertain how others are reacting and adapting to the death of a friend, which has the potential to make you feel less alone. Also, the Facebook wall of the deceased is a great way to share memories with others — memories that otherwise might disappear into the void.
4. It doesn’t cost anything. One of the things that royally pissed me off after Bubba’s death was the profile on Legacy.com that was automatically created after his obituary was printed in the local newspaper. As soon as the Legacy.com profile went live, people from all over — friends, family, co-workers — were able to write guestbook-like entries about Bubba and comforting messages for his family. Sounds nice, right? Yeah. UNTIL you realize that it’s just another money-making scheme that capitalizes on the sadness of mourners:
I captured that image just a few short weeks after his death. Now, two and a half years later, Bubba’s guest book on Legacy.com is expired. But hold on to your hats, people: you can restore it forever for one easy payment of $79.99! Easy as pie!
At least Facebook itself is, well, free. But will it last?
Later this week, we’ll look at the downside of using Facebook as part of the mourning process.
Beretsky, S. (2012). How Facebook Changes the Way We Mourn Death (Part 2). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 7, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/2012/10/how-facebook-changes-the-way-we-mourn-death-part-2/