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The Sweet Pursuit

Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive


Grieving on Facebook

 by Julie Hanus


Tags: death and grieving, digital culture, social networking, Facebook, great writing, The Chronicle Review, Elizabeth Stone, Julie Hanus,

Depending on your degree of web-savvy, dealing with grief online can feel a bit awkward at times. That’s OK. We’re dealing with a “new, uncharted form of grieving,” Elizabeth Stone writes for The Chronicle Review. In a tender essay about the accidental death of one of her students, Casey, Stone shares what she’s learned about grief and digital culture. It’s a story of choices; a friend of the young woman who died, for example, spent all night on the phone to ensure that no one heard the news on Facebook. It’s also a story with a positive take-away, especially for anyone unsure about grieving in the public space of a social network. As Stone writes:

Traditional mourning is governed by conventions. But in the age of Facebook, with selfhood publicly represented via comments and uploaded photos, was it OK for her friends to display joy or exuberance online? Some weren’t sure.

Six weeks after Casey’s death, one student who had posted a shot of herself with Casey wondered aloud when it was all right to post a different photo. Was there a right time? There were no conventions to help her. And would she be judged if she removed her mourning photo before most others did?

As it turns out, Facebook has a “memorializing” policy in regard to the pages of those who have died. . . . As [employee Matt] Kelly wrote in a Facebook blog post last October, “When someone leaves us, they don’t leave our memories or our social network. To reflect that reality, we created the idea of ‘memorialized’ profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who’ve passed.”

Casey’s Facebook page is now memorialized. Her own postings and lists of interests have been removed, and the page is visible only to her Facebook friends. . . . Eight months after her death, her friends are still posting on her wall, not to “share their memories” but to write to her, acknowledging her absence but maintaining their ties to her—exactly the stance that contemporary grief theorists recommend.

Source: The Chronicle Review