Facebook memorials

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When Faye and Mark Leveson established a Facebook page in memory of their son Matt, they turned their grief outwards. The willingness of people to support them, years after their son disappeared, presumed murdered, in 2007, gave them the confidence to keeping looking for answers. Their pain was there for the world to see.

"It's just overwhelming to see friends, friends of friends and complete strangers sharing the story," the Levesons say. "It has been five years and people are still willing to help. It does make us feel that we are being supported by a large part of the community for which we are truly grateful."

For Faye and Mark, the Facebook page also helps refocus their energies. "It gives us the feeling that we are being active in trying to find out what happened to our son," they say.

As a community we wrestle with the idea that bad things happen to good people. We have an understanding of the grey areas between life and death, but when we are faced with tragedies that befall seemingly "normal" people our perceptions of the world are shattered. It only takes a moment to show solidarity from our living rooms - to blog, to "like", to retweet - but what's to be gained in public displays of mourning, of acknowledging loss?

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A study by the University of Pennsylvania has found that the traditional idea that we access help by sitting on a couch isn't reflective of the way people want to feel supported. They show this with their connection to the world of social media.

Similar to the US, Australian Facebook groups established to memorialise victims of crime or to locate missing people can jump from a handful of "likers" to thousands within the space of a few hours.

People seek ways to understand community tragedies by showing their solidarity in virtual numbers. The Pennsylvania study found that are four tasks of mourning and that connecting in the online world is a way for people to readjust to a new way of seeing that world.

So why do people follow these pages - why do they grieve from afar? For some, it's a way of showing support for those left behind and for others it's a way to get a clearer picture of what has happened. For many there has to be some connection that makes them hover over the "like" button.

While Nat, an avid social media user, is happy to show her support from her own corner of the universe she believes there's a limit to such mourning.

"If there's no significance to me, I have to step back from it," she explains.

The places where she does show support are varied. "If the situation is close to my heart, or has some significance, not necessarily a personal connection then yes, I'll follow...

Maybe if the person lost their life from something that I've experienced or if its someone around my age or area. If I don't connect with the situation then no, not because I don't care, but I believe, especially with grief, there's a limit to what I can take."

Social media creates the potential for the people who are grieving to do better collectively than they do alone. Grief is not static, it ebbs and flows similar to the online world where people can engage and disengage as they wish. There might not be a conscious thought between learning of a tragedy and showing support in our news feeds, but it is one way of creating a sense of community, albeit from afar.

5 comments so far

  • A friend of mine in Wales killed himself two months ago and his page has stayed on Facebook. I'm unsure of if it's because FB won't take it down, no on has the password (he wasn't close to his parents) or if it means to some that he is still with us in a way.

    There are many posts from us expressing our grief and one friend has put up photos of the wake. But my friend's account is still active and it creeps me out a bit that there are posts from his account from other apps he had like "Daily Pic" and the horoscope one that post regularly onto his wall.

    Still, if it gives people comfort and allows them to honour a deceased friend of relative, then I am certainly not going to denigrate anyone or tell them if they can or can't have the page. I admit, it's nice to be able to go and look at the pics on my friend's account on the ocassion that I really wish I could talk to him. So I suppose in a way it _IS_ comforting to me too.

    Commenter
    Dhammachick
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 07, 2013, 9:30AM
    • If you access fb you can fill in a form for a "Memorialization Request" which should deactivate the page and leave "as is" which might assist with your concerns.

      https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/?id=305593649477238

      Commenter
      Brett
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 07, 2013, 12:00PM
  • I lost my friend Tom last year. It was everywhere in the media for weeks, as I'm sure many of you would be aware, his death was senseless and heartbreaking. To know there was so many others out there supporting his friends and family at such a hard time made things a lot better. I coped a lot better than a few of my friends, but I felt better prepared to support them knowing we had the support of so many others, even if we would never ever meet.

    I hope people see pages like his memorial one, and I hope they stop and think before something like that happens to them or their family and friends too. Any time the same sort of incident is reported in the news, I cringe in fear. But I hold on to the hope that memorial pages like Toms, or Jill Megher's or anybody who's death is most saddening, that just one person will change their behaviour and stop this from happening again.

    I'll never forget the short time I knew Tom, and none of his friends and family will either. But as long as his memory lives on, whether its through the media or facebook pages, it doesn't matter. Hopefully somebody will learn from grief.

    Commenter
    Ellie
    Date and time
    February 07, 2013, 10:04AM
    • A 15 year old girl I once babysat (when she was a baby) killed herself last year, and it wasn't until I saw it online in social media circles (blogs, Facebook) that I knew about it.
      I think it's good to give people information and connection in their time of grief. While I didn't follow along too closely, it was good to know more about her and try to make sense of the loss, particularly as her death came as one of many suicides in their area of Melbourne. If talking about it means less kids do it, then social media can only help bridge the connections. So sad.

      Commenter
      Karen
      Date and time
      February 07, 2013, 11:37AM
      • What a lovely, well written piece, thanks Sarah,

        Our social media sites are a huge help in so many ways in terms of updating friends, family, the general public as well as receiving input from the same people. Nasty comments do come in too, but are far outweighed by the positive and supportive ones.

        We have seen and learned there is no right or wrong to grieve - there is simply, your way.

        What works so splendidly for us may not suit all and that is the individual's choice.

        Once again, thank you for al of your support and talk soon.

        Cheers, Mark L.

        Commenter
        Mark Leveson
        Location
        Bonnet Bay NSW
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 12:47PM

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