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March 5, 2010

need some insight on death and remembrance in the digital age

if you have had someone close to you pass away in the last few years, i would really like to hear about your experiences related to the web. This can be anything from trying to find a funeral home or caskets, to trying to create a memorial site, or dealing with a remnant social network page. what were good experiences, what were bad experiences, what was missing, and any general reflections on dealing with death in the digital age. thanks.

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Comments (102)

I had a guy I worked with die. I drew a comic about it and posted it on the web. I got a lot of great comments from people who knew him.

Posted by: Peter S. Conrad at March 5, 2010 4:16 PM

When my mother died last year, in my grief I wanted to look at pictures of her and remember her. However, I had no physical photo albums or pictures of her. Instead I just went to my Flickr page and went to the tag 'mom'.

Posted by: Whitney at March 5, 2010 4:21 PM

Amazing PBS piece about death



Posted by: Mary at March 5, 2010 4:21 PM

In 2008 a young man named Beau Zabel was shot in my neighborhood over his iPod. It was pretty rough news in the city. I found his Facebook page and sent my condolences to his sister and she was very appreciative. It was a very odd 21st century encounter.

Posted by: eagleapex at March 5, 2010 4:23 PM

My friend Esrin died last fall from an extremely rare form of cancer. Her facebook page is still up, and every so often, facebook makes suggestions for me to write on her wall. "What's she been up to?" "Catch up with Esrin!" It's eerie and sad, and reading the comments on her page from her friends and family both warms my heart and breaks it.

Posted by: ohkatherine at March 5, 2010 4:23 PM

A student of mine passed away a couple of years ago and his name and e-mail still autofills in my mail app. I know that I could fix it and not have it fill in but, for some odd reason, I can't bring myself to do it. I feel like it would be helping to erase him from my life. Even though I feel a little pain when I do it I also remember the good times I had as his teacher and tutor. A couple of months after the student died I also lost a colleague passed away suddenly and he remains a part of my life and those of my other co-workers through a facebook memorial site.

Posted by: Danny at March 5, 2010 4:27 PM

Last month we lost a high school friend , first from our class, and cells , FB , text and email gave us the ability to connect in minutes. When I say minutes i really mean minutes.
My cell rang and was a NJ number, but no name came up, so being from jersey I figured it was someone i knew that got my number off a friend. IT indeed was someone i have not spoken to in 15 years. He told me of my friends passing and at the same time i was chatting with another HS friend on FB. we both then sent texts and instant messages to various friends that were online through out the country within seconds about 50 people were aware and making plans to trek to jersey for the wake even though we didnt even know when it was going to be held. This was on a Thursday around 930 PM.

Everyone exchange cell numbers and email address' to get notified as soon as the funeral was set. The following morning my ex-girlfriend , mutual friend of the deceased, sent me a text with the times and location. This was forwarded numerous times from and to many people. Then easily put into the GPS on the phone to get directions. Literally a few hundred people were notified virtually immediately.

Then at the wake being able to see so many people that might not have know without the aide of Facebook and cell phones was simply amazing.

We even got more people to join FB so as to be able to keep in touch and have made plans for an unofficial reunion next month.

Posted by: Kevin Post (knp1968 in the ORG) at March 5, 2010 4:28 PM

By the time my mother died, she had joined Friendster and MySpace, and of course, had "friended" me on both. To this day, i still get her birthday reminders.

The first year after her death, and after mourning her with heaps of tears, these reminders delivered a painful pummeling of the heart. But six years later, I like getting them.

Posted by: Cristal Guderjahn at March 5, 2010 4:31 PM

My father passed away in 2005. He and I had been estranged for many years, I visited but not that often, and I lived far away from his assisted living center. I came to town in time to authorize hospice care (which he only needed a couple days) and plan his funeral.

Returning from the very brief wake and funeral service, I poured a glass of wine and opened my email. A cousin, several years older than me, had written me an email offering condolences. At least that's how it started.

The email went from offering sympathies to telling me what a great person my father was, to explaining that he understood why I was so angry at my father, to agnry bitching about his mother (my father's sister, who'd helped me with all the arrangements), to furiously berating and condemning the church my father and I had been members of decades before.

Up until that point, technology had been my friend through the whole death ordeal - especially email. I had maintained contact with my employer, updated friends in far-flung places, received virtual hugs from those who cared about me, etc. And suddenly, after a wake and a funeral and a glass of wine, email was now turning on me and becoming my Not Friend. Blood boiling, I fired off my angry response, clarifying for my cousin just how wrong his assumptions were about my feelings for my father (although since I was replying in a blinding rage, I may not have been convincing him I wasn't angry). I told him his mother had been terrific to me, TYVM, and perhaps he needs to work on his OWN parental issues instead of pulling me to his side or projecting them onto me. Finally I gave him the unabridged, inside story on the church issue to compare to the highly sanitized one told to him by my father. I hit Send. And I proceeded to stew about the email, having pretend conversations with my cousin quietly in the background of my brain for the next three weeks.

So my digital age death story is really the old story of communication between people during emotionally fraught times. The Internet has just made it even easier and faster to push buttons, piss people off, react to being pissed off, and basically stir things up in a way that the telephone and snail mail weren't able to do as efficiently and effectively.

I must say, the way the Internet allowed my friends to send me support and love when my cat died has been a much more positive experience.

Posted by: Mary Jane at March 5, 2010 4:33 PM

When my parents passed away, it was strange to not get emails from them anymore. I would open my inbox, expect a message, and even have to stop myself before cc'ing them a photo of my daughter. I accessed their email, to keep track of and close certain accounts, and I once sent myself a message from my mom's email, just to see her name fresh in my inbox one last time.
My father had been very active on a website about a particular area of Italy. It turned into a memorial page. His memories live on on the digital page. Many of the members there expressed their condolences in a lengthy thread.
The good experience --- their memories are floating around on the internet, their words not lost... The bad --- while the content seems so accessible, they themselves are not.

There were messages my dad had saved in his inbox, drafts, etc... and I wanted to keep them, but I let a length of time lapse by accident and his account was closed... so those words are G O N E, too... and it was another, different sort of loss for me.

Posted by: Tina at March 5, 2010 4:34 PM

Nearly two years ago my sister-in-law was killed in an accident. At the funeral home we were given an opportunity to choose the newspapers in which her obituary would be published. What we didn't know at the time was that one of the papers we chose also had an online guestbook where people could write memories and thoughts about her.

People wrote wonderful stories involving my sister-in-law and we discovered she touched people's lives in so many ways...ways we never suspected. It was a wonderful way to remember her.

Of course, the newspaper service would print out these memories for us in a beautifully bound, hard cover book...for a fee. A hefty fee at that. Being the cheapskate I am, I copied and pasted the entries into a word document and printed them out myself. Besides which, these were public stories told by people who knew her, stories that would be erased by the paper to make room for other stories about other people (and I understand their need for storage space, so I have no issue with the eventual demise of the online presence. I DO have an issue with them wanting to make money off our grief).

Anyway, you asked for experiences, and that has been mine. :)

Posted by: Diana at March 5, 2010 4:34 PM

My friend/former co-worker was killed in a motorcycle accident last year. Facebook continues to suggest I reconnect with him, as do dozens of others who continue to forward him invites and wall posts and links.

Posted by: Wynkendeword at March 5, 2010 4:34 PM

hi Ze - we just had a long conversation with a magazine that deals in legacies. They said that a bunch of funeral homes were online for a webinar on a social networking site that funeral homes could sell. We sighed, and said "Why". They were just so excited (their revenues are down, they are understandably looking for additional revenue streams). I could talk your ear off on this topic. We told them that the usage graph spikes and then nothing. And who's to know that what they do is going to last. So many problems here. Sigh.

Would love to be part of your research - know lots on it the subject and lots of people in this (large) space too.


Posted by: antje wilsch at March 5, 2010 4:36 PM

In late 2003, my cousin and his wife were murdered in their home in Rio De Janiero as they slept. It was big news, American nationals murdered in the middle of a gated community and all that. The locals investigated, the FBI flew down and investigated, but to this day the case remains unsolved.

When my Dad called me with the news, it was obviously a shock. Nobody expected it. Because it happened so far away, we really had no good sources of information to go on.

The AP wire had a number of stories about it, but they were all just re-hashes of the same basic facts: time, place, no suspects. That's about all we knew.

The American media forgot about the story pretty much immediately (except for small papers in my cousin's home town area). But it remained a high-profile case in Rio, and was front-page news for about a month there.

Rio is served by two major newspapers (or at least, two that have websites), and being the family computer jockey I was hitting them all the time and passing along what information I could to the rest of the family.

Unfortunately, I don't speak Portuguese. Also, my cousin's first name happens to be the same as the portugese word for zero, which added a lot of noise to my search results.

Nevertheless, those articles were invaluable. I know the tiniest bit of Spanish, Latin, and French, so between all the cognates I could almost muddle my way through the articles. Babelfish was also a great assist, its "Engrish" translations being marginally more useful to me than the raw Portuguese.

We never learned anything really meaningful to help us explain or make sense of my cousin and his wife's deaths. But in those desperate days when we had nothing at all to go on, even the sense that somewhere, someone was still following and tracking the case, was a comfort. Muddling through Portuguese web pages, waiting for responses from slow web servers half a world away, learning the occasional shred of new information about the developing case, it did do one thing for us. It offered us hope.

That hope has since evaporated, but at the time it gave us hope that the case might be solved, that we might someday have an answer, that justice might yet be done. And at the time, we really needed that.

So thank you, El Globo, for giving us that at the time we most needed it.

Posted by: Jason Black at March 5, 2010 4:37 PM

I had a friend pass away last year. His Facebook page is still operational and it's weird to see when my friends post on his wall to say that they miss him or that it's been a year.

It's hard to decide whether it makes it more difficult or it's just a nice way to remember.

Truthfully, the hardest thing for me was when I deleted his number from my cell phone. It was truly a watershed moment for me, as silly as it sounds. It's like I was finally admitting that he's gone.

Posted by: DJ at March 5, 2010 4:37 PM

I lost my mother five years. It was a devastating experience partly because I never had a chance to say good bye. She had a brain aneurysm, felt in a coma and died a week away.
Until then, I did not know what grieving was. It cannot be understood unless you experience it.

I searched for many things on the web, mostly reports on what coma is and reading about people talking about their lost relatives.

The only thing that really give me conform and helped me learn to live with the pain was searching about other cultures and how they deal with their dead. In Madagascar, they take out the dead bodies and dance with them as a sign of respect. In Brazil, some tribes take the body out after one year and collect the bones in a jar. An African group put the body on one side then turn them around. In India, as much of the body is taken to set the dead free.

The unique poetry, imagination and love depicting in each culture around the way they deal with the remains was fascinating and helped me to accept my own lose.

Posted by: Veronique at March 5, 2010 4:42 PM

My father died a few months ago. He was to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It was during the *very* big snow in D.C. We'd heard the night before the funeral that Arlington was closed to the public. We didn't know how that might affect the funeral plans or if we'd have to postpone.

My uncle used to be the commanding officer of Ft. Myer, the Army post that administers Arlington. He called around and couldn't find an active, manned phone number to ask about the next morning's plans.

I was able to find a duty officer phone number from the Post's website and my wife found the answer on Arlington Cemetery's facebook page.

So there you go, Arlington has an active and well-maintained facebook page.

Posted by: Matt Dick at March 5, 2010 4:43 PM

My dad passed away at the end of November, at 77, from throat cancer.

Backdrop: I had been effectively living with my dad since last April, to get him back and forth to doctors as the diagnosis process was undergone, to accompany him to chemo appointments, to make sure he ate/drank enough to stay nourished despite the pain of swallowing, to watch over him in case he fell, help with the house, etc. I am by profession a philosophy professor at Fordham, and the campus is about a two+ hour drive from where dad was and I commuted to do my teaching in the Bronx.

Web aspects of the experience:
1. As an avid Facebook user, I posted frequent status updates regarding my situation with dad. The ongoing support of the vague, multi-nodal web of people out there who I have 'befriended' on FB was absolutely integral to my retaining composure and a spirit of sociability through what was increasingly a very dark period. I posted things about dad's quirks, his comments, our activities, and carried my friends through the journey with us. It was very remarkable, and the fact that that community of internet-accessible friends persisted through and after the funeral has been an odd and unexpected source of comfort as I grieved and went through some additional unrelated family crises.
2. Because dad's appointments, condition, or needs sometimes made me want to stay with him rather than be gone for a whole day on campus, I did a number of class session online via the web (specifically "Blackboard," an educational product that provides live-chat venues for classes as well as office hours). This opportunity to both teach and to serve my dad's needs (as well as my own peace of mind) was a huge help as I struggled to hold up my various responsibilities. My students were extremely understanding, and in fact the online class experience was for some of them so valuable that they suggested we develop courses that were half live and half online, as the discussion dynamic was so different in a positive way in the online sessions. There was also a great benefit to some to SEE my teaching rather than HEAR it, as listening is a skill some are not gifted with, even among Honors students as I was teaching at the time.
3. Email: via email, I kept my students apprised in detail about my dad's condition and his worsening state as it became clear that death, sooner or later, was going to be the outcome of his struggle. I found the ability to describe our situation in detail (which would have been tearful and difficult in person) enriched the teaching experience, as my students apprehended me as a person (ironically electronically) and not only a teacher, a person who cared intensely about her dad as well as students. The humanizing aspect of this level of communication from a teacher was a pedagogical plus, I think.
4. Information gathering: It was crucial to my mental composure to get as much information as possible about what dad's death options were, how the dying was likely to transpire in his condition, what the hospice options meant, what morphine might mean vis a vis passive euthanasia. We never had to decide about morphine, but the information about dying signs, the pain potentials, etc. was critical in settling my mind even as I grieved in gathering it, knowing what was coming. There's a way that the vast base of information available with a few clicks makes one feel empowered in that situation, which is one of the most disempowering situations one can face.

Web as dad died: as dad neared death the outpourings of concern, support, good vibes, prayers, and information via the web in the ways described was extraordinary. When he died, I posted it as my status on FB within the hour, and it felt like a way of rounding out and yielding closure to the friend community there who had followed the process in so much detail and with so much love.

Web after death: we didnt need to do any investigating for arrangements on the web, but we did and continue to investigate estate management information. There's also been a flurry of photo postings on FB from one of my brothers, of lots of images of dad over the past few years to help us keep him in our imaginations.

Evaluation: I would say that my web experience in dad's dying and death was mostly positive. There should be MORE information about the dying process itself, medically, as families have a hard time getting straight answers out of nervous medical staff (especially, as we were dealing with it, over a major holiday like Thanksgiving weekend, when staffing is at a minimum). Hospitals should be more ready to give or facilitate internet access for patient families, as I had challenges with networking via every facility dad was in towards the end (two hospitals and a rehab center), and usually had to scoot home to his house for my online teaching sessions.

Thanks for doing this project Ze.

Posted by: Jude Jones at March 5, 2010 4:43 PM

(an excerpt from a letter sent to Mark's parents)

A story about remembrance, respect and friendship.

… I must tell you this story, and I hope you don't mind. When the funeral service at the grave site had ended, and all the people had gone, there were 7 engineers remaining. We all stood around Mark, and just couldn't pull ourselves away.

It seemed like an eternity, but our memories of Mark were interrupted when a tractor and two caretakers came over the hill. We turned and stared at the machine, and then back at each other. Strangely, we all had the same thought at the same time. When the tractor pulled up, we approached and asked if we could lower Mark. They agreed, and we each took turns lowering him.

When that was done, again we all looked at each other quietly, and still not wanting to leave, asked the caretakers if they had any shovels. They did.

We all removed our tunics, rolled up our sleeves and did what we felt was the honourable thing for Mark, Kelly and the children, you, Kelly's mom and
dad, his brothers, friends, and relatives and that motley group of soldiers who never say no, and never know when to quit, the Canadian Combat Engineers.

He meant so much to so many people, and we could not stand by and let strangers lay Mark to rest...

Posted by: mcmac at March 5, 2010 4:47 PM

I posted by grandpas obit on my flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitandian/3290520464/) to save for posterity and it turns out one of his former engineers at Bell Labs said something nice about him that none of us had heard before. It was really a nice gesture (guy signed up for Flickr just to post the comment). All of us, especially gramma and mum, really appreciated the guy saying what he did.

Posted by: Ian at March 5, 2010 4:48 PM

My mother, who had lost connection with the family almost 15 years ago, died in 2008. The police somehow found me and notified me, my aunt organized a funeral, and we buried her. An obituary appeared in a New York paper and was archived online. I would look at it occasionally.

A year later, I Googled her name to find the obituary. Curious if they had run a photo with it (she had a connection with the paper), I clicked on Google images and scrolled through the results. One picture, a few pages through, caught my eye.

It was a photo of a needle in someone's arm. I clicked thru to the hosting website and found it was in the photo archives of a major magazine. In fact, it was part of a photo series portraying a homeless woman who was living under the Manhattan bridge on the Brooklyn side. The context was that the post-9/11 NYC economy was driving more people to homelessness. The photos showed this woman - my mother - in her makeshift shelter, shooting up heroin, hobbling around on crutches.

No one in my family knew that she had been homeless. No one even knew that she was still in Brooklyn, let alone NYC. I'm keeping it that way. No one else in my family would bother to Google each other, either.

Posted by: Sam at March 5, 2010 4:48 PM

Hi Ze,

My dad passed away shortly before I graduated in late May, 2009. He was a presence on the web himself, as he had his own website promoting his web design. I didn't really use the internet to search for caskets or a funeral home, since there were local businesses that we knew we were going to go to. He did, however, have a Facebook, and I haven't been able to find his password anywhere. I used his friends list to send messages to people, letting them know what had happened in case they didn't live in the area.
His Facebook is still up, since I haven't found the password. I'm sure I can contact them to delete it, but I'm not sure I want that to happen, either. It's a strange combination of emotions when dealing with something like that. I want to delete it, since it's rather painful to see it pop up every once and a while, but at the same time, I don't want to delete "him", if that makes any sense.

I don't know if it helped any, but that's my experience.

Posted by: Alyssa at March 5, 2010 4:52 PM

Have had two friends die in the last couple months.

Both I found out via Facebook. One I wouldn't have known about but for social networking.

Both used the web to have people convene for memorials. I think that resulted in a larger turn out which is good but...

Something about grief ridden wall posts just doesn't seem to be adequate. I find grief isn't easy to express properly face-to-face with words, expressions and body language to help. Restricted to some words on a page that get bumped down by someone's Farmville gift... things just sound trite.

The best part is Facebook page as living memory. Being able to see that person again. Hear their voice. Watch them in a video. Little pieces to hang on to.

It's something that was touched on in this lecture (right at the very end). http://ubersuper.com/the-future-of-games-dice-2010/

For better or for worse, we all have digital catalogs of who we are, who we were and what people think we meant or mean to others...

Posted by: Matt MacLennan at March 5, 2010 4:56 PM

Forgot to add this as a resource you might want to check out while you're musing on digital death:


Posted by: Matt MacLennan at March 5, 2010 4:59 PM

A Friend from College...

...she passed away from a sudden and unexpected heart failure while on a plane bound to her home in Washington State...


She has a myspace page...


a Facebook page...


Maintained by the guy who was her fiance...

people have posted videos after she died...


On the one hand... there is a direct connection to our memories of her and her life through her posts, captions and photos... a place where we can go, and she is still... alive... Does that make sense?

On the other side, it's been really hard to let her go or believe she's gone because of that... and some of the things she posted before she died, for example the counter for the number of days hours and minute she has been enjoying greater faith, posted a few days before she died... are somewhat eerie...

Posted by: gifa at March 5, 2010 5:02 PM

One of my girlfriend's best friends died last year, but her Google follow icon is still showing on my girlfriend's blog.
Also, I tried to help out with unlocking this person's email account for her mother. Google actually has a procedure on their help pages about what to do if the account holder dies. It had never before occurred to me that this would be an issue.
What if you wouldn't want, say, your loved ones to read your email after you die? How would you prevent that from happening?

Posted by: zeptimius at March 5, 2010 5:16 PM

Not really Web, but digital: the Voice Mail message he left that I kept re-saving for six years. When I moved and had to give up my landline phone number, I asked Quest if they could provide the digital recording as a file, but they refused. It made me mad because I get they CAN do it, like if the police asked for it, but they just wouldn't.

Posted by: Kate at March 5, 2010 5:19 PM

iTunes was extremely useful, when putting together a CD to play at Jenny's service, a few years ago. Trying to find those songs, 20 years ago, would have been too difficult, and searching for them on iTunes together was an enjoyable way to remember her and her fine taste in music.

Posted by: Arah at March 5, 2010 5:21 PM

A very close friend of mine committed suicide a few years ago. He left behind a wife of 1 year and some sizable debt. I was tasked with creating his memorial slideshow for during the funeral and also a memorial website to try and raise money for the widow. A week after the funeral we got police reports that informed us my Friend had walked in on his wife with another man, which they believed was the cause of him going into the bathroom with his gun and ending things. It was a much different story then the widow told us during the funeral. On one had we had a reason, because we really didn't understand. On the other hand there was a cause that could have been prevented and we're lied to. We took down the site, and what money we had collected (it was in a joint account) we gave to a charity he would have respected. Didn't really care about helping her out anymore, which may have been heartless. A couple weeks ago I found the folder I used to hold that website as I designed it before uploading. It was surreal, and brought back all these emotions I thought I had moved on from. I deleted it.

Posted by: JohnnyConfidence at March 5, 2010 5:24 PM

My grandmother was taken to the emergency room the night before this New Years Eve. I was working late, a few counties away, so my parents didn't call and tell me to quit for the day and come home. They left a calm message just to come straight home after work.
I stopped by my apartment first to pack a few things and checked Facebook. A close neighbor had posted her (complete misinformed) gossip about what had happened to my grandmother and I freaked.
A week later, she passed away. All the while, I had friends and people in the community asking what was wrong on Facebook, even asking for the hospital and room number.
While my family appreciated the "prayers and concerns," it seemed unfair that "Facebook" knew before I did the truth about my grandmother.
News travels fast, but at what point does it get out of hand?

Posted by: Jena at March 5, 2010 5:28 PM

My aunt died before FB & Myspace really got going, so I'm not sure this relates, but it took me a long, long time to delete her e-mail address from address book. At the same time, I fought this strong desire to send her e-mail, but really and truly afraid of getting that "undeliverable" message back. I google her name occasionally, just to see, and there are fewer mentions of her as time goes by, although there's a scholarship named after her, so that's comforting.

Even though I've deleted her e-mail address, I still remember what is.

Posted by: Jen at March 5, 2010 5:29 PM

My grandmother died when I was 16. I wrote a poem that day and posted it on deviantart. I left the internet alone for the rest of the day and when I came back I'd gotten their daily poem feature, and some comments of sympathy and shared memories from strangers. Especially at such a young age, it helps to know that there are people all around who can connect with something like that - I think it becomes more obvious as you get older. I also reckon that the woman who featured it did so as a comfort and encouragement to me, and used the website to make sure I got a least some feedback on this poem so that I could get some peace that way as well. Here's the poem. http://oddlyaromatic.deviantart.com/art/The-Hills-Of-Donegal-66923 - the web was a place to turn to in the getting-over-it process, when I was afraid of saying the wrong thing to family etc. - of feeling too much or worse, too little, of what was going on.

And this girl died in 2002: http://sumalangitnawa.deviantart.com/ - her page is still collecting comments from users who knew her then.

The web has a strange effect on things - I haven't yet had a friend on the new social media sites die, but I do know somebody who's very sick and an active facebooker - and it will be a conundrum about what do with with his fb account, photos etc. I suppose it will become a memorial and a tribute.

I feel like the web, through the sheer numbers of people who can come across something you put there, can help you find people who've been through very similar situations of losing a parent or a loved one, and probably one of them is somebody who thinks like you do and can relate to you in a way you appreciate. The flukes of real life don't always throw you up those people when you need them, so with the web and virtual friends, you can be surprised at where support and relief might come from.

Like your just breathe song ze. That's a good song right there.

Posted by: Mark Noonan at March 5, 2010 5:32 PM

My childhood friend has been missing for about three months now, and I'm afraid for the worst. I haven't given up on him yet. But in the meantime, his facebook page is the saddest thing in the world. If you looked at his wall right after the story was picked up in some local papers, it was full of his friends and his mother and brother writing things like "If you're reading this, please come home, we're all worried about, we miss you." His brother at one point wrote something like "I know you're reading this because I saw you online the other day, COME HOME" and his girlfriend replied "Sorry... that was me. I have his password and I'm checking to see if he's logging in and reading his messages."

It's a month later now, and his wall is covered in all kinds of shitty applications by, either, friends who haven't realized he's missing, or automatic, spammy applications. One example, "HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED [HIM] TO BE MORE THAN A FRIEND?" to which this girl replied "7th grade... lol"

And there's a lot more where that came from.

I mean... what do we do with that?

The very hardest part to read is his wall-to-wall with his mother. If you go back to late November, they're chatting chummily, but after that it's all one-sided. Every day, she writes him a new wall post saying she loves him and she misses him and she's really sad and please come home. Merry Christmas. Happy new year. Happy birthday. Please come home.

Posted by: Max at March 5, 2010 5:35 PM

I actually worked on a paper about dealing with social networking sites after a death and have recently picked the topic up again. My father passed away last April so now I'm dealing with closing his varied accounts.

Some websites don't even let you close an account and others make you jump through hoops. Some will memorialize an account, which may mean not allowing new comments or making some information private. Many sites don't even have policies in place. There are websites specifically for leaving messages to be sent after death as well as sites to memorialize those who have already passed away. Some sites are being created to help make dealing with closing accounts and passing along passwords easier.

It can be frustrating sometimes and how frustrating it is depends in part on how much information you were given by the person before they passed away. People need to be more willing to make their preferences known and websites need to make it easier to handle such situations. (I could go on but I think I'll stop here.)

Posted by: Roxy at March 5, 2010 5:39 PM

For a more current, more immediate reaction to death in our internet-based society you might want to check out the various reactions to the death of Andrew Koenig. Without rehashing the entire sad story (and you can Google it and see the basics) he went missing in Vancouver, committed suicide and was found by his parents. Koenig was part of his brother-in-law Jimmy Pardo's podcast Never Not Funny. Since thousands listen to the podcast, thousands considered Koenig family. (I'm not going to analyze the where's and why's of that nor the accuracy of "adopting" someone one has never met. I listened, I felt the same. I'm sure you've experienced people that feel similarly to you since The Show.)

From the first reports of his disappearance to learning of his death to the thousands of condolence messages left on his family's Facebook pages the whole sad affair was online. And remains so. One can still find the whole story outlined in forums and news reports. This may not be exactly what you were looking for but it does serve as a kind of online memorial of a sort. Danielle Koenig's Facebook page has hundreds if not thousands of well-wishing posts as does the page of her husband, Jimmy Pardo. Pardo released a memorial podcast of Koenig this week. Walter Koenig has turned his fan page into a memorial page where the online community can donate to related charitable groups.

Posted by: Kevin Ryan at March 5, 2010 5:40 PM

My mother died in 2005. She never took to personal computing, though she used on in her banking career for nearly two decades.

Remembering her life is not a digital act for me. There are no photos of her online, nothing she wrote or "tweeted" or posted to facebook or blogged. She didn't even have a non-work e-mail account. Searching for her name I can only find her obituary and some vague genealogy site mentions, which are probably about someone else.

My mother's memory is completely analog. All the photos taken of her are on film, developed, physical objects. As the years go by I'm tempted to get them scanned, if only to preserve them for my unborn children. to see. But I don't think I can put them on my flickr account,or share them via e-mail. To me, that feels like I'm acting against her wishes. She was a private person who carefully chose what to share and what not to share. Is creating a gallery on picasa a violation of those wishes?

When she was near her end, jaundiced, ravaged by three long rounds of chemo, she was so very shy about her appearance. I chose to give her a closed casket service and instead hung a board of photos next to the coffin. Everyone who came touched those photos, remembered the time and the place of their taking, experienced them as objects and moments. A couple of her close friends even took a couple, as they were all the memento they had.

Digital lives feel cheaper, easier. A photo, and a person, should have weight.

Posted by: MG at March 5, 2010 5:59 PM

My cat, who I had for 18 years, died last year. A lot of my usernames and passwords on websites incorporated my beloved cat's name. For a while, every time I typed one of these logins I would remember the cat fondly and rationalize that I should never change them. Now they just annoy me, make me sad every time I see them, and and make it seem like my cat is still a part of my life if other people see the usernames, and I feel that is wrong somehow. I want to erase all traces but I don't know how to do it without starting whole new accounts. I have no idea if this is a healthy or unhealthy reaction, either. It's been a year. I should be OK by now but I loved that kitten.

Posted by: KT at March 5, 2010 6:05 PM

My uncle passed away last year. He had always been a bit of the mystery in the family. He had several divorces and was never able to hold a job, so he was rarely talked about. When he was seen at family events he would only talk about football. He ended up passing under some terrible circumstances. I knew he had had one son in his first marriage and I had seen at a few family events, he also passed a couple of Months later. But at the funeral, my mother comes to me and asks, "You remember -----, don't you?" And brings over his other son. I had never met him before, let alone knew he existed. He was the child of one of my Uncle's messier divorces. We talked a little, but it was awkward meeting a cousin I had never known about in such a situation. A while after we ended up connecting on Facebook. He happens to be the same age as I am, and we have quite a few interests in common. He now joins my family when we go out on the weekends sometimes. In my case social networking brought me a new family member when others were lost.

Posted by: Gutierrez at March 5, 2010 6:25 PM

a friend of mines brother died in a car crash in south africa a couple of weeks back. as well as getting the word out quickly, things like face book gave alot of people a chance to express their feeling about a great guy in a single place where everyone who cared could hear it. it think it helped my friend deal with it a bit better.

Posted by: minkley at March 5, 2010 6:34 PM

I am part of a large group of close friends, one of whom committed suicide about 18 months ago. He was 23. His Facebook page has stayed right where it is and his friends and family continue to post messages of love and "miss you" to him. They tell him about the things he did that changed their lives or made them better people and the gifts of time, listening and love that he gave. It's instructive to read his FB to see how to live a life so that you really do leave it better than you found it, and because they left his page up there I got to witness that. I'm in my late 30s so social media is not intuitive for me and at first I was a little bit creeped out, thinking "Hey, when you die, they should pack up your web presence too" but I've changed my mind about that 180. I have come to see it like a sort of virtual memorial wall, and I think that's as good a way to keep a person's good memory alive as any.

Posted by: Parrot Eyes at March 5, 2010 6:41 PM

I had a friend die valentines day weekend last year. I remember first suspecting when I looked at his facebook page to see a lot of people writing things like, "get better soon!" or "i heard the news" but they never said what exactly had happened.
The funeral services were organized via Facebook and e-mail. An informal memorial page was set up for people located in one city and people located in his home town, in the same state. It was organized such that the informal memorial services in two different places were happening at the same time.
I found out about wristbands that were made in memorial to him, the location of the formal memorial and the location of the funeral through facebook.
People still post on his wall on days that they're feeling bad or good, or on his birthday, or on his deathday.

Posted by: Tavia at March 5, 2010 6:53 PM

I've been working for an insurance company for the last 10 months. The company has been in business since the Depression... the average tenure in the company is 18 years... in the 10 months I've been here, 6 people have died of natural/health causes...

My job is to figure out how to plan for succession. Needless to say I feel pressure to get this accomplished in light of the last 10 month's events...

Posted by: Rob at March 5, 2010 7:24 PM

My friend died a couple of years ago, and I really actually wished that I could have made a music sharing website, with all her music (she had tons and was really into it) and then music that all of her friends wanted to share. I was hoping, actually that it was something that you could do, because I thought there could be a screen saver, like your random flower drawer, or pictures of her, and also a place where people could add comments, and also connect with her parents. If that sight existed, I am sure that her mother would have it as the default on her laptop.

Posted by: Stardust at March 5, 2010 7:31 PM

Almost 6 years ago, when I was 18, my mother took her own life.
As a lesbian in a small community, she had found it difficult to meet like minded women, so she took the the internet.
In the old MSN chatrooms, she met women from all over the world. They became some of their closest friends. They kept in contact daily through email, phone calls and the occasional overseas visit.
After her death I was faced with the task of breaking the news. I didn't know these women. I was almost certain the person they knew my mother to be was not the person I knew. What could I even say?
In the end I sent out a simple group email from Mum's account. I gave them the basic details of her passing, and nothing more. I told them nothing of the circumstances that led up to it. I could barely process them myself, let alone relay them to a group of strangers.
I'm sure they were left with questions that I was not able to answer. I don't remain in contact with any of them. I just hope they think of her sometimes, and remember her fondly.

Posted by: Stacey at March 5, 2010 7:39 PM

I just want to say that I think the traces of a dead person on the internet help to remind us that no one really ever dies, if we remember them. Just like parts of you are uploaded to the web, parts of you are imprinted on other people, in memories. Those live on.

Posted by: steph at March 5, 2010 7:43 PM

My brother is the Beau Zabel mentioned above. It was very angering to see some of the nasty stuff said about him online in various forums by people who didn't know him, attacking his character and generally demeaning him as if the facts readily available on the internet was the god's honest truth and it was their job to judge. On the other hand, technology enabled me to see the kind words others had to say about him that I under other circumstances wouldn't have seen. Now I can still go to his Facebook page and see his words and feel like he's still around...a little. With his story being on America's Most Wanted his case is listed on their website in the hopes that it will help his murderer be caught. That has it's downside, with the video available disturbing to watch when you know the context. And in the age of instant information on demand, a Google alert brings blog posts related to him, such as this one, to my attention as soon as they're available. In the case of the post above, technology allowed the notion that he only had one sister to become "fact" when in fact the "sister" the above poster speaks of is his step-sister and I am the sister that he grew up with. The media's rush to publish a story on the internet without checking their facts or making sure they had the whole story caused that, as opposed to the more careful attention that would have been paid to the story if it was to only have been published in local newspapers. So in my case, technology is both a good and bad thing. More good than bad, I think, because I've been able to see that he meant almost as much to others as he did to me and that if his life was destined to be cut short he did touch other people's lives before he was gone.

Posted by: BRT at March 5, 2010 7:50 PM

Two good experiences:

1. I put a brief post up on my blog when my mom died, to let people know why I wouldn't be posting. I was touched by the comments people left. http://jdorganizer.blogspot.com/2007/05/julia-good-1926-2007.html

2. My brother used YouTube to share the slide show he made for the memorial service; family members who couldn't make it to the service could see the show. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5_wSDlrdug

Posted by: Jeri Dansky at March 5, 2010 8:01 PM

my FÏL died half a year ago from euthanasia following terminal brain cancer. my experience of the web was actually a complete pull away. the experience, my own grief and that of my guy was too much to comment on on the web. social media was not where i wanted to air something so deeply personal and sad. i wanted a human touch for all funeral arrangements. no fucking web site would have ever sufficed. grief is awful and unspeakably painful. the tenderness required could never be sufficiently conveyed by me online nor could it have ever been met by someone who had no contact with me.

Posted by: ingrid at March 5, 2010 8:03 PM

A few months ago, though probably more now that I think about it, a good friend of mine who I knew since childhood killed himself. I'm still not sure how I've handled it.

At any rate, his facebook is still up and people make it as a kind of shrine for him. His mom posts pictures and some people wish him a happy birthday. For me, personally, I hate seeing it. It's a constant reminder that my friend who I desperately want back is gone. Even if I send him a message, he'll never respond.

On the other hand, I'm glad it's there. A lot of his friends seem to enjoy it and it tells the world that this man existed. He was a good man, and a great friend, for a brief time he was here with us.

In short, I don't know how I really feel about any of it. I just miss my friend.

Posted by: TheChris at March 5, 2010 8:17 PM

After 9/11 I was looking at the list of those killed and found a name that struck a chord so I wrote a poem asking no one in particular who he was, as he was all of us. I posted it on a website somewhere and a few months later a friend of mine led me to a memorial website for him. I'd check it from time to time and some of his friends and family appreciated the poem. I found out about his family and that he was from Manipour India.

I don't know him, but here he is in my heart now because of this experience. His name is Jupiter Yambem. He worked at Windows on the World, the restaurant on top of one of the towers. He's another friend I've never met, because of this internet thing.

I just checked the site right now. There is a sense of guardianship for his memory in my heart.

Posted by: jeano at March 5, 2010 8:19 PM

...oh, I didn't read the instructions. scratch that.

Posted by: jeano at March 5, 2010 8:22 PM

I've kept an account with Livejournal for about a decade now. Within the last few years, two of my lj friends have passed on, but their accounts remain.

Whenever I'm in my profile page, I can see that they're still watching me. They're no longer alive, but they'll be watching me, forever.

Posted by: Torr at March 5, 2010 8:30 PM

...oh, I didn't read the instructions. After reading most of the above, I really should have taken some time to sit still and listen.

Posted by: jeano at March 5, 2010 8:37 PM

My friend found this great site when her mother passed away. I think it's great that people have these types of options so readily available these days. You can pay for it online, and just send the ashes to them in the mail. And it's cheap! You can get your loved one's ashes incorporated into a BEAUTIFUL piece of glass art for just a couple hundred bucks. I think it's a fantastic idea. :D


Posted by: LE at March 5, 2010 8:41 PM

In 2003 a friend committed suicide, shocking many of us. Her blog became a central station of sorts, with family, friends and strangers (many more after a story was published about her in a national magazine) would stop by and comment. Memories. Sentiments. Questions. Over time, the comments became the focus, with comment after comment focusing on the comments before. Somewhere, the memory of her was an afterthought to angry, ignorant battles between comment-trolls. Around the anniversary of her suicide, and subsequent anniversaries, friends and family would return to leave words... but those decreased. I think it was after two or three years that the blog was taken down.

Less than a year ago, another friend died. Their presence within the community was... huge. It didn't take long for their Facebook page to be flooded with images, memories, comments and more. Roughly 8 months later, people still comment with updates, sentiments and the like. His life is celebrated. He is missed very, very much and his Facebook page has become a virtual memorial.

Posted by: K at March 5, 2010 8:43 PM

Dealing with death in the digital age, seems to only affect both parties (dead and alive) with internet; rather than 1 party that has internet, 1 party that does not. Regarding social networking, I feel it's a nice memory at first to keep an account of someone who's passed, especially if it was their original, but when I kept seeing him as my #1, getting notices about his birthday, etc, it made me grieve harder. It was unbearable to keep his account up, and I felt I'd never get sane about his death until I could do these little, slow acceptance things to almost think about anything ELSE than the fact that he's gone and how sad it is. Better to create a separate memorial site, where you and friends can go to see photos and important details. Comments can scar certain people, I see it far better to send an email to someone if you have something that personal to announce. Afterall, it's the living who have to come first after the dead, we are the ones that have to suffer on earth and SURVIVE. I think online presence of a deceased individual is just faint-worthy.

Posted by: Genevieve at March 5, 2010 8:58 PM

My most recent loss was too long ago for the 'net to have had much impact at the time - although the person became a celebrity in their time and so I see many, many reminders of them ongoing. It is strange to have had a more intimate kind of relationship with someone and to see the opinions and experiences of others, some worshipful, in fact. I do not not feel worshipful at all - I just miss them and regret that I don't get to see what comes next, don't get to grow old with them.

I found this, though, just now:


which may be of interest.

Posted by: Marianne at March 5, 2010 9:13 PM

poster on a message board died, his son informed the board. post is here: http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?t=393534

Posted by: anonymous at March 5, 2010 9:21 PM

My brother committed suicide last summer. Shortly afterward my mom, who took it very hard, found his Facebook page (we didn't know he had one). It was set to private but she figured out his password and logged on as "him".

That was a really surreal experience... being logged in to my dead brother's Facebook page. It hadn't been used very often, and I don't know what exactly we were looking for... answers I suppose... but we ended up just deleting it, which we both felt was for the best.

Posted by: Logan at March 5, 2010 9:27 PM

My father passed away after much sadness and hardship in his life. He had bipolar disorder and his last years were quite difficult.

The night he passed away, one of the first things I did was write to the online support group I had joined. This was a group of people who all had loved ones with bipolar disorder and they were a lifeline to me during the most difficult times with my Dad. It was important to me to let them know what had happened. And equally important to let them know about my Dad. It hit me so suddenly that all I ever talked about with them was his illness. I never told them about the person that he was. So I poured my heart out yet again to these people I had never met. And their words of comfort and condolences are the ones I'll most remember.

Posted by: terry at March 5, 2010 9:35 PM

When he was eighteen, my oldest cousin killed himself. No one in our family had any idea what he must have been going through. He seemed perfect in every way to me. Anyway, after he died I found a forum on the internet with hundreds of posts sending their sympathies to his family, saying things like RIP Will. RIP Will.

Posted by: Sara at March 5, 2010 9:38 PM

Interesting timing with this post, Ze. A friend from high school died almost one year ago. Out of all the people I went to high school with that have died in the last few years (medical issues, military, etc) I was only close with this last one. We met in a creative writing class. He was my favorite writer and poet, definitely one of the top 10 funniest people I've ever met. He was two years older than me, a senior (class of 2004) when I was a sophomore.

I never saw him or hung out after he graduated, so we stayed in touch sparsely online: an email or two every few months. However, he kept a series of blogs with short stories. I sort of felt like we would connect again somehow in college or after. He was studying film and I music, there were some prospective projects. I really regret not spending any time with him in "real" life.

Before he died I never even thought of the stuff the internet leaves behind, and in one night I came to understand the sort of dilemma that comes with this network of computers that archives everything we are willing to put in to it. Most of everything he ever wrote and every picture he uploaded is still available and will be until the website expires or the whole internet runs on some entirely new platform.

We put a lot of energy in to trying to preserve information, but how much of it is really going to last? Hard drives and other storage media die the strange death of becoming obsolete with anything that was inside of them trapped there. The internet is becoming a device for storage and retrieval, but we don't give any thought to where that stuff actually is. I mean, myspace and livejournal have the last remaining words and images produced by my late friend, isn't that kind of a big deal? For centuries friends and family were left behind with remains: photo albums, home video, letters. Whats going to happen to all of this stuff?

Wired ran an article on websites that handle your digital remains a while back:


but most of the services seemed like they were just about erasing your online presence, like digital clean-up. Also, they require your signing up and handing over things like passwords and user names. I think it's a step in the right direction, but I think they should be collecting whatever you give them access to and turning it over to whoever the deceased leaves behind: Youtube videos, forum posts (some of the sublime words written in the Ze Frank forums should never be forgotten) and other things that stand out as memorials of how we spend our daily lives in this weird weird WEIRD atemporal, non-localized "place" called the internet.

Meanwhile, my friend will continue to be missed greatly, as well as be solicited for his favorite bands' new releases and 2 for 1 drink specials by spam-bots and myspace accounts.

Our reactions towards death and the grieving process strike me as something very simple that we don't understand just yet. I don't think it boils down to some evolutionary mechanism. Why DOES the memory of someone who has passed away move us so? I think that this internet issue is important, we don't get new paradigms when it comes to thought about death very often.

Now that I think about it, I never had any other mutual friends with this guy, so I never really bothered to get it off my chest, thanks for the opportunity.

R.I.P Alfredo Becerra

Posted by: Brian at March 5, 2010 10:18 PM

When I joined my first social networking site years and years ago, I searched for members who shared an interest with me (doomed local band Daddy's Hands). And there was only one, with the handle "123forever", or maybe it was "1234ever".

I went and left a comment on his blog, sort of attempting to get added as a friend.

1234ever replied to me, only it wasn't him; it was his wife, who was maintaining his account in a torrent of fresh grief. He had just died of Marfan's. His real name was Wolf.

Posted by: zod at March 5, 2010 10:50 PM

On a semi-related note a friend of mine started something called Legacy Locker. It's kinda like a digital safe that stores all your passwords to every social networking site, email, etc that you want it to and upon death - is released to your next of kin (or whoever you bequeath it to). It's an interesting thing to note because that is a real problem that eventually has to be addressed.

Posted by: Digidave at March 6, 2010 12:06 AM

i still keep his phone number in my cell phone. i've replaced my phone three times since he died.. it doesn't matter, it's still the first number i transfer each time.

google searches of his name bring up random pictures on facebook (friends, who dug them out of shoe boxes after you passed), several copies of a minimal obituary, and a friendster page you never friended me on.

it's one of those typical photos, flash, bathroom mirror.. you ran it through some editor and now it's a rainbow in the shape of your face. every month or so i'll pull it up just to look at you.

you're everywhere.. in these little pockets i can pull up on a whim no matter where i am or what i'm doing. like saying hello. insufficient little pockets you thought so little of when you were alive.. that now, feel strangely like the only real pieces of you left to me.

Posted by: laura at March 6, 2010 2:10 AM

Found I could not attend my grandmother's funeral, but arranged with my brother to have his cell phone, laptop and web cam operational during and after the funeral service so I could see, hear and even video chat with relatives. I recorded the web cam footage and phone call. Listened to it a few times as I tried to edit it into something, but that something was so painfully awful that I eventually deleted it from the hard drive.

Two years after a friends passing, his surviving partner came for a visit with a request that I help him save all the voice mail from the days immediately surrounding Phil's death. No problem. Edited the messages together and made a CD of the thing for him so he could hear those words he'd listened to already hundreds of times -- if he wanted to -- but ultimately gave him the courage to delete them from his phone and not worry they'd be lost forever. It allowed him to turn at least THAT page.

Touching & connecting people as always, Ze, through inspiration to action. Thanks.

Posted by: Jan McLaughlin at March 6, 2010 6:01 AM

I've been a member of a certain online community (focused around science and the media) since the mid-1990s. In that time we've lost several members: Doug Rickard (1939-2002) was the first, and set the pattern. His "Memoirs of a Space Engineer" web site preserved some of his anecdotes in his own words; occasionally a listmember will delve into memory or the email archives to dig up one of Doug's observations and add it to a current conversation. This provides an opening for others to post fond recollections of the former listmember, and thus newbies are introduced to the community's 'local legends'.

Digital media are also changing the more traditional rites around death -- in the last couple of years I've attended two funerals that included Powerpoint slidedshows of photos and scanned documents illustrating the deceased's life. These funerals were both very 'churchy' and quite solemn: nevertheless, the mood during and after the slidedhows was almost happy -- a collective reliving of the good times, the parts of a life that were shared with friends and family members.

Posted by: flipsockgrrl at March 6, 2010 9:31 AM

The football coach and PE teacher from my high school died this year. (I'm now 11 years beyond high school). He had been at the school for over 30 years and was one of the most beloved among the faculty. Word spread very quickly through Facebook. His Memorial Service was held in the High School gym and the whole thing was live-streamed on the internet with hundreds of former students viewing it from all over the country. An online community developed on Facebook sharing condolences and memories. One side-effect of all of this was that it sparked a resurgence of Alumni involvement/connection. I reconnected with some old classmates because I saw them in the memorial Facebook group. Soon there was a flurry of new EDHS Alumni pages, groups for different class years or different campus clubs, etc.

Another Story: When my grandma died, I asked our family to email me pictures so I could put together a slide show for her memorial. I was shocked when my 92 year old aunt scanned pictures and emailed them the next day. (Tech-savvy-est 90+ I know).

Posted by: Julie at March 6, 2010 10:08 AM

The series Caprica on the Syfy network. It's a sort of a prequel to the Battle Star Galactica series. While a lot of it is about a family feud and religion it also raises some questions about how much is known about us by the internet and our computers. Two main characters are the virtual reincarnation of young girls made from all of her online data. Seems flimsy at first but it's not to far off from the future. The internet can find everything about us. Music, family, food, friends, thoughts (twitter, email Facebook), purchases, study, reading, tv, movies, schedules, taste in sex, appearance, style, you could go on forever. What happens to all this data and all these accounts. For the most part they just sit there. But what is their potential. What will future generations learn from left behind data? Can we live on in a virtual world?

Posted by: wipis at March 6, 2010 1:55 PM

i heard a friend died through finding a facebook message notification in my inbox 'from' him: "---- --- invites you to a celebration of ---- ---'s life". i thought it was a joke. his parents had sent it. it was a very different kind of shock to hearing it another, non-digital way. like someone had a terrible sense of humour about it.

Posted by: beeker Northam at March 6, 2010 2:35 PM

Back towards the end of October 2009, one of my friends from high school stopped on the side of the highway because she ran out of gas and was hit by a drunk driver. I hadn't been really close friends with her, but since I went to a relatively small high school in a relatively small town, we knew each other. She was a talented student and probably the coolest dressed person on the planet.

Anyway, her Facebook page immediately became a memorial. Anyone who had her as a friend on Facebook immediately posted their fondest memories of Bailey, and close friends even made brand new albums featuring her, tagging her in their best times together. Those that didn't know her that well found out about her tragic death through status updates. I was actually notified of her passing via text message.

About a month ago, Facebook's "suggestion" section said that I hadn't talked to her in a while, and that I should write on her wall. At first it kind of upset me that the site didn't account for her passing, that no one had removed her page. But then I clicked on the link and saw that her profile has many recent wall posts, that people hadn't stopped thinking about their friend just because November had passed. Facebook was not only a way to find out tragic news, but it had sort of evolved into a coping mechanism for those grieving.

Posted by: Jake at March 6, 2010 3:06 PM

when my brother died by suicide almost two and a half years ago, his facebook "wall" became a memorial wall. people still write their thoughts and feelings there today, buy him digital "presents" (favorite songs, "drinks", etc.) and they tag him in their photographs which helps everyone remember him. it's only too bad that no new people can friend him because there were so many more that want to do the same.
i hope this helps.

Posted by: Stefan at March 6, 2010 3:21 PM

My dad passed a year and a half ago. I was 19. He had no connection to social media, no facebook etc. Our funeral arrangements were all done in person, in town.
But through me my dad loved the internet. He loved reddit, he loved gizmodo, he loved every flight website i could plunk him in front of.
Every link i know he would have liked reminds me of him.
The internet does it's part to keep him always present.

Posted by: LZ at March 6, 2010 4:25 PM

the way people remain on social networks is certainly an interesting thing and not probably one of the aspects that the zuckerburgs had been thinking about. (do they have a policy for a guardian to take over a family member's account... for example if it was in the will?)... somewhat of a cold question i guess...

it seems that sometimes such pages turn into memorials. sometimes they just seem like ghosts.

i look at something like memorial2u.com and most of the pages seem like ghosts as well - one post... not getting people in and sharing. i haven't seen a place that really encourages people to make rich memorials. and then there are funeral homes that have services i think that go along with the mahogany or bullet proof casket. like corny wedding sites.

thought about building one - not that difficult technically, but difficult to do well.

Posted by: jonah at March 6, 2010 5:59 PM

Around 2 years ago, my friend Larry Hertzog passed away. He was a television writer/producer whose shows I had been a huge fan of when I was growing up.

Our meeting itself was a happy accident of technology -- I was in the business of producing DVD bonus content and got to interview him when I was putting the box set together for his cult series "Nowhere Man".

As part of the marketing push I worked with him to create a podcast where he could reminisce about the TV series to support the release of the DVD. He tired of that conceit rather quickly and the podcast morphed into this incredibly heartfelt exploration of his world view on life, love, politics, gender and everything in between. For 99 episodes, Larry and his former assistant and long-time friend Lauren Proctor would show up at The Oyster House in Studio City, order up a few cocktails and engage in the sort of conversation one might expect to have among good friends; sometimes heated, sometimes meandering and always enjoyable.

As their "producer", I would often participate as a guest and get picked on for not being better at finding a way for them to make the show profitable.

When Larry got sick and new episodes of the show didn't arrive, the regular listeners knew something was wrong. Once he announced his passing the outpouring of sympathy on the bulletin boards and forums was incredibly moving. The community of fans shared in their grief with the comfort that the show was his way of communicating from the great beyond. Two years later the site and all the archived episodes are still online at www.drinkswithlarryandlauren.com and people are still discovering it.

I recently came across the un-aired recording of the show's 100th episode, made barely 2 months before Larry died. His voice raspy and raw from the battery of tests and radiation that he was undergoing, there's an air of melancholy that pervades as Larry and Lauren talk about what they mean to each other. It's fairly apparent that they know his days are numbered and in their own unique way they're saying goodbye.

In his will, Larry left me the podcasting equipment which motivated me to create my own show. That has been an incredible experience in its own right.

Whenever I miss him, I can pour myself a Ketel One and soda and visit him online. For that, I am eternally grateful.


Posted by: Noam Dromi at March 6, 2010 6:07 PM

... a kind, empathic administrative 'secretary' in the factory I worked... before computers and right through their introduction, a benevolent, just person. She had cancer, for years and tried to beat it. I believe it was the first death I heard about through an email as I hadn't worked at the factory for years. still choke up remembering her.

Posted by: don at March 6, 2010 9:23 PM

I was never one for social networking sites - my friends jokingly teased me for being "the only person left on the face of the earth without a Facebook account." But for the life of me, I couldn't think of a reason to digitally connect with the people I was already spending my real life quality time with.

When my best friend died last year in a motorcycle accident, there was a tremendous outpour of sympathy from family, friends, acquantances, co-workers, etc. in comments left on his facebook page. Close friends left page long testimonials, old schoolmates reconnected, memorial services discussed and even a scholarship fund was brought up.

In the weeks following the accident, I sent him a friend request so that I could have access to his page, to his comment thread, to his photo albums. I had no plans to pour my heart into a comment box nor reconnect with old acquantances. I just wanted to say hello to a dear friend and take joy in reading the responses of the people whose lives he had touched.

I'm still waiting for him to confirm that we're friends.

Posted by: PaulG at March 7, 2010 8:44 AM

An album can take on whole new connotations when the buddy that lent it to you offs himself.

Posted by: Onymous at March 7, 2010 9:59 AM

Sometime after, you know, civilization and me survived Y2K (ahem) my free floating need to be neurotic and anxious and up at night noted hey, even if any specific disaster doesn't seem headed your way, you're still going to die.

I did a lot of reading, and reflecting, and talking with people, and came up with 6 or so ways of dealing with our own mortality, especially us who don't feel assured of the existence of an afterlife, or our place in it. I also came up with a specific of wise and/or funny quotes on the issue...

I put the result at http://mortals.be/ -- (As a DNS joke, you can also get to it at http://lord.what.fools.these.mortals.be/ ) I think it's the most important thing I've written, which might not be saying too much, but still.

Posted by: kirk is at March 7, 2010 11:11 AM

The IETF is the organization that makes the engineering standards for the Internet. There was a very sweet and dedicated fellow named Itojun who is one of the reasons that we aren't going to run out of addresses soon. He died a few years ago, much to the dismay to many of us. But he also had a Facebook presence, and no one knew his password. So, he's still "friends" with many of us on Facebook, and Facebook would inappropriately say things like "reconnect with Itojun!" and so on. For many of us Internet engineering dweebs, it shows how lame some of the popular services on the Internet really are.

Posted by: Paul Hoffman at March 7, 2010 4:16 PM

My mother passed away a couple of years ago and she entrusted me with an old well-worn photograph book that had originally belonged to my grandmother. It "called to me one night" and I turned to the Internet for clarity. When all was said and done, I realized that this "memory book" was probably something that my grandmother held on her lap throughout the majority of the last years of her short life. Also too, that it told a story not just about her life, but it told a story about the lives of many others that had fallen ill to TB in the late 20's. Life was hard, but having someone in the family with TB made it even harder and a lot of people had TB back then.

When I began my layman's search, the only thing that I knew for sure was that my grandmother had died from TB when my mother was 13. I also knew that she had lived at the Maine Sanitarium. As I searched the Internet for clues, the old photograph book came to life. I realized that I had in my hands, a visual chronology of my grandmothers life from her marriage, through the birth of my mother and finally rest of her life at the Sanitarium.

I learned that the photographs of people in dress clothes were "the visitors" (most of them also relatives) and that when she slept during the cold winter nights, the windows were probably wide open and her feet where covered with straw to keep her warm. I discovered the name and location of the Sanitarium by matching her photographs up with old postcards from eBay. Through a Museum website, I found stories written by TB patients that had survive.

Someday I might even take a drive to see the building. I've Google Mapped it and I know that it still stands based on stories from a ghost hunters website. Apparently, the third floor of the old San is haunted. Eerie, that is the same floor on which she marked her window with an X.

I intend to pass this story on to my teenagers should they care to know about it. I think that I might even mention that they have a great-grandmother that haunts the old San in Maine... I'd like to run into her we'd have a lot to chat about.

Posted by: marthainnh at March 8, 2010 1:00 AM

I had a very good friend die about a year ago. They were someone I'd known and been in contact ever since my senior year in high school. After I had graduated high school, I moved away and shunned all my friends. Except for her. We kept in contact over MySpace and sent hundreds of messages to each other.
Towards the end of her life, she began to drink heavily a party frequently and her MySpace reflected that. She died in a drunk driving accident and her parents, in an effort to apparently save face, immediately deleted her account.
About a week after her memorial, I decided that I was going to reminisce a bit and re-read some of the message threads that we had sent to each other. Because her account had been deleted, all of those messages had too been deleted.
I'm still a bit frustrated about that. I wish I still had all of those conversations.

Posted by: Tanner at March 8, 2010 4:40 AM

The news originally reached me through my close friend E. She called me in tears; our mutual friend M from college, with whom few people had been in touch (E had, as had our friend T), had committed suicide.

We met up in the park after work. She had received an e-mail from T. It was a strange e-mail, because rather than breaking the news, T just wrote about how M's death was something that affected them both and they should talk about it. That's how E learned the news.

Later that evening, two things came to light: one, E hadn't received the news directly because M's boyfriend of a few months had arranged a list of people to e-mail from Facebook, and somehow it ended up being a weirdly selective list (other close friends of M were also excluded and found out other ways). Secondly, M hadn't committed suicide, she had been in a car accident. E had accidentally inferred the suicide from the e-mail, which had been cryptic because of the Facebook omission.

Ultimately we all got together for a memorial service in M's honor. Her boyfriend arranged the whole thing, and invited us all, via Facebook, having turned M's account into a sort of memorial site in itself. As far as I know, it is still there (I don't feel much urge to go and look at it).

What would have normally been an internet-age faux pax instead heightened and distorted the initial grieving process. After the memorial ceremony, there was discussion of why the Facebook list had initially been incomplete, and since M had been so out of touch with people, how it was initially interpreted as indicative of whom she felt close with at the end, whom she had chosen to speak of to her new boyfriend. The news spread quickly, but through the complicating lens of Facebook life.

As a strange footnote to the whole thing, at the time (even now) I was not much of a Facebook user. M had friended me, but, like at least 50 other people, I had just never gotten around to responding. Now her friend request was there, lingering. I ultimately decided to add her, since I wanted to be a part of the memorial proceedings, and because we had been friends. But adding someone who wasn't actually here anymore was, needless to say, a strange and sad feeling.

Posted by: Lee at March 8, 2010 2:16 PM

My uncle died suddenly a couple of years ago, and I still can't bear to take his name and e-mail out of my gmail address book.

Posted by: christy at March 8, 2010 4:50 PM

when my father was dying, a group was formed on myspace (since moved to facebook) "Lawrence Cannon TRIED to teach me!" He taught high school physics for 40 years (Henry Sibley, West St. Paul, MN) - there are A LOT of people he tried to teach and who loved him for or in spite of it. It was great he got to read many of the stories people posted before he died.

Since then, I sometimes visit it and read the posts as a way of reconnecting with him. People still post.

Similarly there was an online 'guestbook' with his obituary and the notes left on that daily were really special to hear. I of course exported/saved them for a rainy day.

Strange thing - I found myself wanting MORE of what people said about him or wrote about him and started scouring the internet for mentions of him... 'googling the dead' (I registered the domain even though I can't use it).
So anyway, googling the dead became a kind of obsession while I was grieving - trying to find new bits of him after he was gone. It didn't last overly long, but it certainly was an intriguing part of the grieving process.

Similarly I'm struck by the remnants of online lives when I run across the profile of a departed colleague on linkedin. How long will these bits of them float out there? And more interesting is that new people who encounter this profile may try and interact with it as a living person. So odd to think about.

Fascinating topic. I'll be interested to see where you take it.

Posted by: Cris at March 8, 2010 6:00 PM

Around 18 months ago someone I was very close with during college was killed by a tram in a foreign city. We had been out of touch for a number of years. How I regretted not keeping more closely in touch with her! I searched the internet for information about the accident, and was disturbed to find reports in online versions of tabloids about the accident, as the comments sections were full of ignorant remarks made by people who never knew her. There were even some people claiming to have been witnesses, saying that she was at fault. I printed out the comments and mailed them to a mutual friend, with whom I am making more of an effort to keep in touch with, in case the family would be able to use any information to bring a case against the transit company. Certainly before the internet it would not have been possible to read comments made in the local press.

Posted by: Delphic at March 9, 2010 5:02 PM

a friend passed away unexpectedly a couple years ago. many of his friends knew he had a healthy social life, both online and off, and some of us knew he had a bit of a lesser known persona online that would be nothing but confusing and probably painful for his parents and some friends to trip over someday. the job fell to me to have some of those profiles locked down or removed, which is often difficult to do if you do not have access to the account that those things are connected to, or are not a relative. so i lied and became his grieving sister. myspace was pretty obnoxious about the whole matter but did finally relent and lock down the page to friends only. most other sites were fairly accommodating, either temporarily disabling the account until the account holder requested from his original email to re-open it (which of all options seems to be the most practical), or in a couple cases removing the account/profile altogether.

an important lesson in web-trails was learned through this - i was able to eventually track down several different accounts of his just by knowing a few key things about him and the things i knew he was into. i suspect i didn't find them all but the odds of his mom wandering into any of them are pretty slim.

more recently a friend died and i was still getting the "person a wants to reconnect with you" on facebook. creeepy but facebook now has a 'memorialize' feature that will turn off those reminders and emails from the departed, but leave their page up for friends to visit.

all this death reminds me of 2 questions we all started asking each other after the death of my first mentioned friend, and the nightmare that ensued afterwards:
1) does someone you trust know where all your important stuff (papers, deeds, etc) and personal stuff (toys, porn, bongs, etc) can be found if there were ever a need to find it/clean up before mom and dad start going through your things?
2) do you have a will? even if you own nothing but a cat, someone somewhere should know what you want to happen to it if something happens to you. there are simple, free ones online that could save your loved ones a lot of heartache down the road.

Posted by: mandalyn x at March 9, 2010 6:23 PM

My mom passed away on December 31, 2009. I'm still trying to decide what to do with her web site (www.ebetts.com) and her facebook page which has become this amazing tribute wall and a place where folks still talk to her. How do you turn that off when they are finding comfort in it?

Posted by: Krivedal at March 9, 2010 7:03 PM

Weirdly, Heaven's Gate web site is still active.....


Posted by: JAN at March 12, 2010 9:06 AM

A coworker moved out of the area and got a new job, some hundreds of miles from where he used to live. Respectfully, he and I were never meant to continue correspondence. The two of us were always at odds. We disagreed in business practices and leisure interests. We found very little to agree on, but cordial in passing.

When we heard of his three year old daughter dying from an accident, emotions swelled. There was nothing I could do to help. Coworkers wouldn't give me his address for condolences, and bills, loans, debt recovery and mortgages made monetary contributions impossible.

I found the funeral home's website and blog for the daughter's family and made a kind entry, short but loving, signing my wife and I.

I'll never know what it's like to lose a child. I'm not even sure that my condolences were any help. But then, what kind of help can anyone offer in that situation?

I never heard back.

Posted by: Michael at March 21, 2010 12:40 PM

I had a friend from college die suddenly last year. Finding out about his passing via Facebook messaging was strange enough, but stranger still is that his Facebook page is still active and updates are still being posted from friends who miss him. A birthday wish, a Merry Christmas. One of the posters sums it all up this way:

" It seems so surreal that although you are gone you are still here with us in cyber space. Some part of me almost expects that you are going to transcend to our level and answer the messages we have been leaving for you. Miss you."

Truly a strange byproduct of the times in which we live.

Posted by: Tyson Hamrick at March 21, 2010 9:19 PM

Ze, you may have seen this already, but it's a great piece written by Joel Johnson about death and the internet. Hope it helps.


Posted by: Matt at March 21, 2010 10:05 PM

My first experince with death and the internet happend to me while in highschool (to give you a frame of refernce i am in my early 20's). A girl i knew killed herself. Soon her myspace page became this instant memorial. People would leave comments about theier condolences or memories of her. Sometimes they would just tell her they missed her. With no one to delete or maintain the account it became this permant mark of morning on the internet.

Recently an old friend of my boyfreiind and aquanitce of mine died. We found out via facebook. At first my boyfriend thought it was a joke. He just saw this link posted in the news feed "In memory of Dante". As we delved deeper into the trail we found out that he has in fact passed on. The distance of emotion we experienced when finding this out was strange. What a cold and faceless way to find out about a real person's death. What i found so deeply disturbing about looking at his facebook page was the amount of obviously bullshit comments. Don't get me wrong many of them were sincere and heart felt. But the internet is a very self indulgent mechanism. Many of the people had not spoken to the deceased in years, so although they were sad the posts seemed more about their own self obsession of keeping up apperances than anything else.

Posted by: katie rose at March 23, 2010 7:50 PM

I was in San Antonio and saw what you brought to others not necessarily engaged with social media from this thread and your other research. Very inspiring. I hope you get the chance to help others beyond that group explore what role social media has in helping folks navigate grief and loss, and how it relates to more traditional means of getting through that process. A very interesting discussion, with lots of opportunities to help lots of people.

Many thanks.

Posted by: Greg at March 24, 2010 9:52 PM

My brother was killed over 10 years ago, so I guess that his death doesn't exactly fit your topic. However, the Internet has played an odd roll in my grief, as the transcripts of his murder trial are available at different legal sites. It's just so odd having this personal and painful part of my life available for anyone to read like a textbook entry.
The creepiest thing, though, is the fact that the man who killed my brother has a page on prisoner pen pal page. Knowing what he did and then reading his self-penned personals ad is a weird experience. It's tempting to send him a message and f*** with him, but I would never.

Posted by: kr at March 29, 2010 3:24 PM

My best friend died 6 years ago and if I could bring back only one person, it would be her. Her family left her voice mail message up for several months. I used to call her at least once a day just to hear her voice.

Posted by: Dixie Vice at March 29, 2010 4:32 PM

A favorite professor died of cancer back in 2004. There was a social networking site (I can't remember what it was called) that let us know how he was doing and allowed us to wish him and his family well.

A couple years later a guy who rode bicycles with a group in Seattle died really suddenly. News of his death was shared over our forum and we posted pictures in memoriam. Visiting his myspace page was pretty haunting; you could see how sad he was before he died and friends from all over bid him farewell.

Posted by: Raz at March 29, 2010 9:15 PM

A very good friend of mine who was also my student, died just over a week ago. It was agreat shock to me She had only just completed her Masters degree under my supervision and she has not even graduated yet. She was one of, if not THE best students I ever worked with. I went to her memorial service and afterwards I took some photographs on the beach near where she lived. I posted them on Facebook as a Memorial to her. A lot of other students and friends responded to the photos, and for me that was one way of dealing with and sharing my grief.

Posted by: john at March 30, 2010 8:34 AM

Video slideshows are popular to show at the viewing. When my sister died a few years ago, my brother and I spend a good 3 hours scanning photos into iPhoto. We developed a nice little routine. I remember being very thankful for keyboard shortcuts for things like "crop" and "rotate."

My father wasn't happy that when the funeral home made the DVD, they set it to cheesy music with a picture of an empty bench in the background. It just seemed so "Hallmark" and contrived. They scrambled to make another copy of the DVD, and had it out within about 20 minutes.

My sister had an e-mail address. We never did manage to get access to it. It has made me give thought to setting up an "If I die" plan for all my accounts and my web sites, etc.

I got a lot of e-mails from people I hadn't seen or talked to since childhood, as news of her death spread. I couldn't deal with it all right then, so I created a "when I'm ready" folder.

I gave the eulogy. Many people were moved by it and requested a copy. I put it up on my blog. I ended up giving it to a magazine which featured it as an article about my sister's death.

I received many e-mails from strangers who has heard about her death by getting an e-mail from a friend of a friend of a friend. It was fascinating to see the ripples go out and then come crashing back home as letters. One was from a convicted murderer, in prison for life, who had been moved by hearing the story of her tragic death.

Posted by: Mark Jaquith at March 30, 2010 3:45 PM

My dad passed away about a month ago, i found it very hard to call people or tell them in any way, a couple days after his passing the only thing i could get my mind to do is post a photo of him and write a little. It helped me a lot

The Photo (and text in spanish):

Posted by: Serialk at April 25, 2010 11:41 AM

great post as usual!

Posted by: MarkSpizer at May 3, 2010 9:15 AM

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

Posted by: rtyecript at August 23, 2011 9:51 AM

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