Using Social Media to Memorialize Loves Ones

Many of our most introspective and appreciative moments about life only come after we’ve experienced death of a loved one. Time is never more valued than when we realize there is none remaining, and words are never more passionately pursued than when we cannot say them or take them back. However, traditionally grief seems to have a social expiration date, a point at which conversations about what could have been are discouraged, and supporters begin to introduce concepts of ‘moving on’.

Remembering conversations are a narrative therapeutic approach that not only encourages the continued development of a relationship with the deceased, but also is a powerful tool in marshaling the sustained social support of friends and relatives who have passed away. Remembering conversations promote the telling of stories that intentionally keep the relationship with the deceased salient.

One actively tries to re-invigorate the ideals, beliefs, and motivations of the deceased into the daily lives of the living. Indeed, this is a great shift from the finality that death historically has embodied. It is through remembering conversations, particularly the development of digital media that the external comfort and acceptability of social support systems is extended beyond death, and the relationship can be supported indefinitely.

As early as the 16th century, mothers began securing portraits of deceased babies. Studies state that these portraits allowed the relationship with the child to feel more ‘real’. Having these portraits in the home invited frequent memories and stimulated conversations about the child. Contemporary media, likewise, extends our relationship with the deceased and allows for all their friends and acquaintances to remain intertwined.

Technology makes grieving and celebrating a collective phenomenon rather than a solo ritual. Today, we give names to our stillborn babies and celebrate their birthdays. Our loved ones live within regularly updated memorial pages on Facebook, and instead of, or in addition to prayer, we speak directly to our deceased by posting a message online.

Perhaps most incredible is that the social support that use to diminish over time, can now be sustained over the remainder of a lifetime. Where kind words about the deceased were once reserved for special occasions (anniversary of death, birthday, etc), the relationship is no longer buried in a photo album with the obituary but cultivated on the World Wide Web. Indeed it seems that our ability to continue our connections with the deceased has allowed us to bend the permanency of death, and therefore enhance our acceptance of it.

MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook provide a means for us to digitally memorialize our lives and the lives of the deceased. The creation of memorial pages on social networking sites essentially allow the ritualized and traditional eulogy to continue over time and engage friends and family, as well as virtual strangers.

One study conducted by Kern et al. (2012), revealed that people use such pages to continue conversations with the dead, rather than simply as a medium for personal grieving. This appears to encourage support from strangers who adopt a third person tone, in order to join in a direct conversation with the loved one about the deceased individual. The use of such pages has become so popular that many sites will ensure that the page of a deceased person will never be deleted unless formally requested by the family. As such, conversations with the deceased can continue and remembering is made easier.

Howard U

Howard University Doctoral Students

From Left to Right: Nomi-Kaie Bennett, Amy Rossmeisl, Karisma Turner, Billy D. Holcombe, Robin Young, Tiffany Brown, and Heather Key.  The authors are doctoral students at Howard University