Vicki McLeod

Untrending: Mourning in the digital age

Grieving is once again becoming a community practice.

One of the many things that have changed in the digital age is the way we grieve.

Researching our book, Digital Legacy Plan, due out in March 2019, co-author Angela Crocker and I discovered some interesting research by professor Tony Walter, a sociologist from the U.K. who has written and taught widely on the social aspects of death, dying and loss.

In his examination of online memorial culture in the context of the history of mourning (New mourners, old mourners: online memorial culture as a chapter in the history of mourning, New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia, 2015), he compares family and community contexts for mourning in pre-industrial times to the community approach emerging in today’s online communities.

In pre-industrial times, families were large, and communities were small and largely rural. Mortality rates, especially among children were high, and the tolling of the church bell notified the community that someone had been lost. Even if the deceased or bereaved were not well known to all residents of the village or town, the community mourned together.

In the 20th Century, as a result of urbanization, families spread out. Improved health care and birth control contributed smaller families and to lower childhood mortality rates. Death more typically occurred among the elderly, and grief became a much more private affair with death and dying largely handled by institutions.

Today, fueled by the Internet, grieving is once again becoming a community practice. In the 1990s, online grief support groups emerged, offering support and validation for mourners with shared loss, with membership unfettered by geography and virtual support available across time and space. This may very well have marked the beginning of the reemergence of community mourning. Add social media to the mix and the global reach of accessible, real-time communication has made it substantially easier to foster community.

Think about the recent tragic suicide deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Most of us found out about this news via social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We amplified the news by posting it online for friends and followers to see. Around the world, people expressed their shock, sadness, and sympathy online. Through shared grief, we sought comfort and understanding.

This is not just true of celebrity deaths. It is more and more common for us to use social media as a way to notify the wider community of the death or dying of loved ones and seek comfort and advice online. In the daily scrolling of social media feeds, we run the gamut of human experience. As we come to grips with a new way of being in community with one another, we need to understand how to deal with loss, grief, and conflict with sensitivity and compassion.

On Monday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m., I’ll be at the Maple Ridge Public Library talking about community in the digital age. Kat Wahamaa, of the Opioid Overdose Response Task Group, and poet Herb Bryce are also presenters. We are taking part in Local Voices, a series hosted by the library to celebrate Media Literacy Week. To find out more, visit www.fvrl.ca.

Vicki McLeod is an author, TEDx speaker, and award-winning entrepreneur. She is a business and personal coach and consultant. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or find her at

www.vickimcleod.com.

Just Posted

Maple Ridge businesses, residents looking for relief from tent city

Both have been challenged by being near homeless camp.

UPDATE: Province putting temporary modular housing on Burnett Street

Expected to take five months, will work with city on solution to homeless camp.

Paramedics say ambulances sitting idle

Shortages in Maple Ridge, Metro Vancouver

Teacher reprimanded after swearing at student during 2017 altercation

Gregory Norman Brock was issued letter of discipline, suspended three days without pay.

RMMBA holds first training session of season in Maple Ridge

Players wore green in honour of St. Patrick’s Day

VIDEO: Can you believe it? This B.C. hill pulls cars backwards up a slope

Sir Isaac Newton had clearly never been to this Vernon anomaly when he discovered gravity

Canucks hang on for 7-4 win over Senators

Horvat nets 2 for Vancouver

European, Canadian regulators to do own review of Boeing jet

Air Canada plans to remove the Boeing 737 Max from its schedule at least through July 1

Prime minister defends Liberal budget measures as sales effort gets underway

Conservatives under Andrew Scheer say it’s a spree funded by borrowing against the future

Mayor meets with B.C. health minister on homeless taxi transfers

Two homeless people were discharged from Surrey Memorial and sent to a Chilliwack shelter

B.C. lottery winner being sued by co-workers

They claim he owes them $200,000 each, in a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver

Teacher reprimanded for conduct towards special needs student

Alan Stephen Berry told vice principal he did not have time to use positive strategies

‘Full worm super moon’ to illuminate B.C. skies on first day of spring

Spring has sprung, a moon named in honour of thawing soil marks final super moon until 2020

Having phone within sight while driving does not violate law: B.C. judge

The mere presence of a cell phone within sight of a driver is not enough for a conviction, judge says

Most Read