The way we deal with death in 2019 is very different from even just a decade ago. Today, our physical lives run parallel with our online presence and, for many of us, everything is documented online from our baby’s 12 week scan to our death.

While we’re creating these digital footprints, we’re also faced daily with other people’s milestones, their news, as well as charity campaigns and awareness events – such as Baby Loss Awareness Week last week – which keep all of life’s hurdles at the forefront of our minds, now more than ever.

This will no doubt help to lessen the taboo around talking about death – many terminally ill people now choose to keep blogs, which are widely read. But our digital lives also bring challenges when we lose a loved one. How do we communicate online about a death? What is expected of us? Is it ok for online messages to replace more traditional forms of communication?


The research

The Coop conducted some interesting research into social etiquette in the event of a death. They found that:

  • 1 in 8 adults have posted online to notify others about the death of a loved one
  • 1 in 5 adults want loved ones to post online to notify others about their own death
  • 1 in 3 agree that with the rise of social media less people send sympathy cards

So in a world of social media, how do we cope with a death and what positives can we draw from it?


Reacting to a death on social media

If you find out that someone has passed away via social media, it can be difficult to know what to say. Messages and emails are increasingly replacing traditional cards, but of course, there is this sense of immediacy to everything online.

It’s important not to bombard the family of the deceased with messages and, if you do post something publicly, then be very mindful of what you’re posting. Think about how your words will affect others at such an emotional time. While expressing your emotions is a healthy part of grief, always remember that your posts will potentially be seen by a very wide audience and some conversations are better had offline.

It’s said that 50% of Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2010) spend 10 hours a day connected online, however, when it comes to death, even those who have grown up in a digital world find grieving in the internet age a bit strange. Some worry that they will look like they are attention seeking if they post about a friend or loved one’s death. For a generation who post almost everything online, surely not ‘talking’ about it would be odd, but yet these questions still arise for many of us when anniversaries and birthdays come around every year.


Sharing the news of the death of a loved one online

If you have lost someone, you may wish to put a notice online to let your wider circle of connections aware of the death, once you have spoken to close friends and family. You may also wish to post details of the funeral, which can be shared to anyone who may like to attend.

If you’re unsure what to do with their social media and online accounts, check that they didn’t leave any wishes or instructions. You can:

  • Memorialise their accounts (only some platforms will allow you to do this). This will enable you to still visit their profiles and see photos etc. but will stop birthday notifications or similar being sent, which can be very distressing for everyone involved
  • Delete their accounts (you will have to contact the individual platforms and will generally need a copy of the death certificate)
  • Leave their accounts open


A modern day memory book

Thanks to our online presence, those who have passed away are no longer hidden away in dusty photo albums, they are carried around with us, as the background photo on our phone, or in our profile pictures. Some of us also upload old family photos to our social accounts to share with friends, creating a digital legacy.

This can help with the grieving process; scrolling through photos and memories as you would have done a photo album, but with the deceased’s own words and emotions to accompany them.

People are also starting to request digital memorials when they die; a virtual space online for remembrance, as opposed to the traditional headstone or plaque.


Appointing a ‘digital heir’

Not many people have heard of the ‘legacy contact’ on Facebook. It’s someone who you appoint to look after your Facebook account after you die. That person cannot read the deceased person’s messages, but can change their profile photo and archive posts and photos. Other platforms have various methods to close or memorialise accounts, but planning ahead where you can and choosing a ‘digital heir’ will make things easier for those left behind.

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