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Is a Facebook site an alternative to a gravesite?

Is a Facebook site an alternative to a gravesite?

by Ann Fontaine

553283_10151281039199193_998417139_n.jpgRecently this image has been traveling around Facebook. It caused me to wonder about “friends” who have died and with whom I am still “friends.” I wonder how people feel about continuing Facebook friendships with people who can no longer post their thoughts. At first I would “unsubscribe” to people when they died. Now I leave them in place.

The other day a birthday of a friend, who has died, came up in my feed and I visited her page. It was surprising to see how many were wishing her Happy Birthday and hoping she was in a better place – happy and healthy. There were notes from during the year from friends, grandchildren, and adult children and others expressing the sadness of the loss, joy at the time spent together.

Some of were discussing this phenomena and I asked what people thought: comforting or creepy?

Elizabeth Kaeton commented, “I actually take comfort in seeing their names when I’m looking for someone else. And, I confess, I visit the FB pages of people who have died; sort of in the same way I visit gravestones at cemeteries and niches at columbaria. I’ve thought of “unfriending” but as long as the families/friends of the deceased keep up their page, I’ll visit.”

Maria Evans, an essayist for Speaking to the Soul and Daily Episcopalian wondered, “Well, ya know, I visit the cemetery now and then and chat with my dearly departed relatives. Maybe we need a Facebook cemetery.”

Elizabeth Colette Melillo reflected, “Normally I would joke about this, but it has saddened me, during the past year, when people who had recently died (without my knowing this) were flagged in birthday reminders and the like. I was sorry that I posted greetings thinking they were alive. I saw an extremely sad question in the Facebook FAQ – ‘my daughter committed suicide – how do I remove her account?”

Pamela Kandt thinks it is a nice reminder of people gone from our lives, “I actually love seeing their names pop up. We lose so many people in this world and it’s good to have reminders of people we have cared about.”

John Deuel speaks from personal experience of family Facebook sites, “They seem to have evolved into virtual gravesites, where friends and family visit occasionally and leave verbal flowers, or just spend a few minutes reliving special moments through photos that are still there. I think it’s developing a place in our lives now and social networks should probably make a few minor changes to accommodate this evolution.”

Linda MacMillan writes, “If I hadn’t experienced it, I might think it was creepy, but I like seeing the name of someone pop up. It’s as if they are still here. It gives pixels to the notion that as long as we remember someone, they are not really gone. I don’t seek out their pages, but I enjoy having a reminder that they were here and that in some way they still are.”

What do you think? Comforting or creepy?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine is serving as an interim priest for Grace Episcopal Church in Astoria, Oregon. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible and keeps the blog what the tide brings in.


**Additional note from Episcopal News Service:

In response to readers’ requests, Episcopal News Service is expanding its offerings and now provides a special area of reader-submitted obituaries. “The new section of the Episcopal News Service website has been designed to allow people to submit their own Episcopal-related obituaries in an easy, user-friendly manner,” noted the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal News Service editor/reporter.

The new obituary section launches on January 8.

The obituary section is available here

Obits can be uploaded by using the form here

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Rita Wallace

I'm in two minds about this.

I certainly don't like the idea of people taking to Facebook to say happy birthday to a person who has died, or make comments as if he/she still cared, about their favorite team winning a pennant, or something. It goes against the grain, because my Christian view is that he/she has left the cares of earth behind, and is happily enjoying the wonderful life hereafter that the church teaches about.

"There’s a home for little children

Above the bright blue sky,

Where Jesus reigns in glory,

A home of peace and joy

No home on earth is like it,

Nor can with it compare;

For everyone is happy

Nor could be happier there."

On the other hand, one puts flowers on a grave as a remembrance of a loved one, and one talks lovingly about a person who has died.

A FB page as a place to share memories, and to figuratively put flowers--that's okay, in my mind. To talk "to" the dead person--that's another matter.

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Nathan Humphrey

My brother died less than a year and a half ago at the age of 39 from malignant melanoma. A couple of months ago, FB asked if I'd like to friend him. He has an FB page, but I didn't think to become one of his FB friends before he died. I thought of asking his widow to add me on his behalf, but I didn't know whether she had access to his account. She died of the same disease the week before Christmas last month, so it's a moot point now, I suppose. I take some strange comfort in the fact that my brother would find it funny if I sent him a friend request now, since he's not in much of a position currently to accept it. One if the stranger ironies of his untimely death.

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David O'Rourke

I agree, this is a great way to memorialize someone who has passed in to the eternal life. This is especially useful when families and friends are oftentimes very scattered geographically and may be isolated from others who are missing the person who has died, and can take the place of or supplement being able to do traditional things like visiting a grave site. How many people visit the grave sites of friends and family on significant days, like birthdays or mothers day or fathers day?

One point to consider is to be intentional about how we want our online presences to continue after we pass. Note that companies like Facebook and Google will not give access to accounts to the next of kin even if they have the right to handle your estate, so consider making arrangements for who you would want to handle your online presence after you pass. This should also apply to email accounts that are linked to important accounts that your next of kin will need access to.

This should include making sure that whoever you want to have handle your accounts will have access to usernames and passwords and will know what your wishes are. There are also companies that will handle these issues for a fee and will either cancel your accounts for you or manage them according to your instructions.

Also, for those of us who have online friendships that do not carry over in to the non virtual world, it is important to think about how you would want those friends to learn news of your passing. Traditionally, this was communicated by things like obituaries and such. How might this work in virtual settings? The ability to use social media like Facebook as "virtual tombstones" is key to this.

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Lelanda Lee

I wrote a blog post on this subject last summer titled "I Wish Heaven Had Skype" found at http://tinyurl.com/az33whx. I'm glad Facebook doesn't arbitrarily close accounts of the deceased, because they do serve as "living" memorials to the dead and comforts to some who need an outlet for their grief and other emotions. I am in favor of providing support to people, and for some people, this is supportive.

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