Mourning in the Era of Facebook

My godmother passed away this morning. She had been sick for awhile – cancer – and though it was unexpected (we had hoped a new experimental chemo would buy her a few more months), it wasn’t surprising. She was an incredible woman – a Harvard law grad who went to the deep South to work as a public defender (and volunteer firefighter for awhile). Even after she got sick, she had more energy than I do half the time. We’ll miss her very much.

What fascinates me right now though is watching the posts accumulating on her Facebook wall. Close to 50 in the 15 or so hours since she died. This is the second time in the past year that someone close to me with a Facebook profile has died, and both times this happened. Facebook has had issues with this in the past and tried to come up with some solutions. Leaving the wall up to allow people to post, while preventing the profile from appearing in other places, seems to be the resolution. It’s fascinating to think that Facebook has become an integral technology for mourning, as well as for communicating someone’s death.

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4 Comments

  1. A blog is also an odd place to share condolences, but when you know someone via a blog, what else to do?

    I am sorry for your loss, Dan. I wish you and your family all the best in this difficult time.

    • Thanks very much Tina. And I agree – such is the world we live in!

      I look forward to seeing everyone at ASA and drowning my sorrows in sociology.

  2. Ben

     /  August 4, 2010

    My condolences too, Dan.

    It is an interesting new thing, isn’t it. I’m surprised that someone of that generation is using FB, and presumably her peers are as well.

    As you say, FB has become a way of notifying people about deaths too. I knew a young man who died in an accident fairly recently(fell off a cliff). His parents then faced a problem. How to reach his friends to inform them of the death and the funeral arrangements? He had been living overseas and away from home for some time, and they didn’t really know who his friends were anymore, aside from old school friends.

    Like most of us these days, I suspect, he had no address book. His friends’ contact details were presumably only stored digitally in his phone (which was smashed in the accident). And young people don’t read newspaper obituaries.

    The only thing they could come up with was posting a notification on his FB wall. That worked.

  3. So sorry for your loss! My grandmother is also ill with cancer so I can relate to how this must have felt.

    Best wishes,
    George