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Internet Venues For Expressing Grief

Eleven years ago, after her father and stepmother were murdered in their home in Sedona, Arizona, Gabrielle Birkner, 34, attended Safe Horizons in a Harlem basement. She was the youngest participant by at least a generation. While Birkner says the support group saved her life, she deeply felt the lack of support of her peers. So few of them had yet experienced the kind of loss she now knew. Last November, Birkner and Rebecca Soffer, 37, started Modern Loss, a website targeted toward younger adults who seek a place to process the complexities of their grief, from miscarriages to the death of a sibling. Soffer lost her mother to a car accident in 2006, followed by the death of her father by heart attack in 2010. She said that at the time of her parents' deaths, her friends responded largely via text message.

Expanding the Emotional Range of the Internet

Melissa Lafsky Wall, 35, posted an essay about a miscarriage on Modern Loss entitled, "The Silent Sorrow." Wall said, "The Internet should speak to the parts of life that we all experience, but aren't represented in most media, a large one being grief and loss."

The response to Modern Loss indicates to many people that upcoming generations are eager to find virtual spaces in which they may explore the pain that life can bring, as well as the pleasures.

These days one may find postings that seek to put the conversation about death and bereavement in a public forum. Sources include:

  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Memorial sites

A good deal of the information shared is not for the faint of heart. Anonymous sites such as Whisper offer confession-style posts that can be quite graphic in nature.

Internet as Resource

Modern Loss is a curated combination of essays and advice. The founders are careful to keep the site profile from becoming either too flippant or too earnest. Both women acknowledge that humor is essential, however. Some of the very modern topics of discussion may be filed under theater of the absurd, such as how to get Google to quit suggesting you add a deceased person to your contact list.

Music and Mourning

Zoe Feldman experienced deep personal loss when a former girlfriend died in 2012. Feldman continues to process her grief through her site, Lisa Frank Mixtape. In return for essays about loss, Feldman gives the authors a homemade cassette tape of '90s music. Feldman said she sought several different ways to process her pain, but the thing that worked best was hearing stories from her peers about their grief. Feldman said, "One person wrote and said it's like being part of a weird, sad tribe."

Death Awareness

Caitlin Doughty, 29, is a mortician at a Los Angeles funeral home. She also oversees the website, The Order of the Good Death, which engages with subjects relating to mortality. She has a YouTube series, as well, entitled "Ask a Mortician," which has over one million visitors over the past four years. Doughty believes younger generations are willing to talk openly, or at least in a publicly accessible format, about tough subjects like death. Some people wish to underscore the difference, however, between sharing and showing off. One area of controversy is the idea of selfies at a funeral. "Selfies at Funerals " is an actual Tumblr site started by Jason Feifer, 33. Feifer said that while some of the pictures do indeed seem insensitive, others might be pointing toward an emerging method of mourning.

Evolving Social Mores in Social Media

A memorial post on a Facebook site may not be a precise swap for the solace of human contact, but the Internet may offer effective ways to communicate and process loss now and for generations to come. Essays and blogs can offer compassion and connection, and online memorials remain accessible always, from anywhere.

Category: Funeral

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