Virtual grieving

May 25, 2010

Death is terribly hard to deal with. Especially of young people who leave this world too early. Technology, which has changed how we do so many things, is also changing how the urban youth is dealing with untimely and tragic deaths. The first thing that inevitably and often instantly follows the horrific news is a Facebook group with a name like “We miss you...”, “In loving memory of...”, or “RIP...”. People change their display pictures to ones of the loved one they have just lost and the wall of the deceased is flooded with posts of condolences, which are sad and heartwarming but can also, with the passage of time, be a little disconcerting.

“I feel often groups are made to show the family how much their kid was loved and that I get,” says one Facebook user, “but I don’t understand when they post on the wall as if that person is still around. I wonder if they think the person is really reading it?”

Facebook is giving users dealing with death an outlet to mourn, say all they wanted to say to the person they’ve lost, even post updates of their lives; what happened at prom night, how their favourite football team fared and so on. “It kind of helps. It’s a way of maintaining a sense of connection to the person,” says one user who has been through the experience. But I feel maintaining a connection is slightly unnatural after a point, delaying the process it takes to move on because you always have something to cling on to. And is it okay to stop posting on their wall if everyone else continues to do so? When is it okay to change your display picture to something else? Changing it will not mean that you are any less upset, but others may perceive it so.

Understanding online behaviour is evolving but this is one area which is still pretty grey.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 26th, 2010.