How Social Media Changes Our Grieving Process

Three-year-old Crew Long has been gone a little more than a year and a half.

But his mom still talks to him.

Sometimes Mandy Long speaks to her son, who died on Sept. 18, 2017, through prayer or in her journal. Other times she posts notes to her son on her family’s Facebook group page, Crew’s Crew.

“I think, for me, talking about Crew, saying his name, putting pictures out there and other people saying his name, I need that still,” she said, speaking from the Indiana home she shares with her two older boys and husband, Scott. “It does help me. It does feed my soul to know other people are still thinking about him.”

The interweaving of social media into our daily lives is changing the way we mourn our dead.

Grieving is no longer a private process, shared with just friends and family members during a wake or funeral. Today, we also reach out to our community of friends and family worldwide for solace on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.

We may even mourn people we’ve never met — celebrities we watched on television as kids or favorite rock stars whose music marked points in our lives. This was the case recently when former “90210” TV star Luke Perry died. His Facebook page quickly filled with hundreds of mournful tributes, many of them speaking directly to him.

“The question at the time was why would you do that for a dead person?” said Glenn Sparks, who studies social media and mourning trends as a professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. “Once we become attached to celebrity characters, and when they die and have funerals, we can’t participate in the mourning events, and that’s why many people join — to feel connected. There’s a greater need to feel that we’re part of that larger community.”

Changes to social media policies also mean that our dead remain with us longer, at least online.

In 2014, Facebook changed its policies on the visibility of members’ accounts after their deaths, making it easier for friends and family to share memories for a longer period of time on that person’s page.

On Instagram, members have founded accounts such as @Griefstagram or @Griefcast to publicly document mourning or speak about death as a natural process and not something to be ashamed of or hide.

Kate George began @Griefstagram after her husband’s death at age 32. In an essay posted on Medium.com, George said the couple had shared most of the details of their life together online.

So posting about his death, even though it was difficult, seemed the right thing to do, she wrote.

“I had been nervous about sharing the news of his death, and the cause, but the response to my post about Eric’s death was overwhelmingly beautiful and celebratory of his life,” she wrote.

Memorialization and our initial visceral reactions to someone’s death are two types of traditional mourning practices that social media tends to amplify and digitize, according to Bonnie Stewart, an assistant professor of Online Pedagogy and Workplace Learning at the University of Windsor.

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Source: Religion News Service