Digital memorials

Authored by: Candi K. Cann

The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138852075
eBook ISBN: 9781315723747
Adobe ISBN:


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Death is an inherently social experience, and the way in which death is understood and grieved is, in part, socially and culturally constructed and managed (Christensen and Willerslev 2013: 5). Digital memorials are online spaces created to remember and honor the dead, and serve the dual aim of making sense of death and perpetuating bonds with the dead. Because of their primarily public nature, the study of digital memorials offers a unique opportunity to examine mourning responses to death. Traditional grieving patterns focus on sense-making, which includes understanding, processing, and remembering the dead through thinking about the death, positing questions about the death, and offering lamentations about the dead. These various aspects reflect an attempt to come to a gradual acceptance of a death and help the bereaved navigate a world without the deceased. Digital memorials offer one approach to sense-making following a death, providing a sympathetic forum through which to grieve and understand the death, while renegotiating the world of the living without the deceased. However, digital memorials also seem to have an additional function in which the dead are gradually reinserted into the realm of the living in such a way that the deceased participates in the realm of the living in a way that accommodates their new status as a dead person. Ranging from personal postings written to the deceased themselves to reorienting the living to a world in which the deceased are no longer present and responsive, memorialization online primarily serves to assist with the bereavement process and help the living live in a world without the dead (Christensen and Gotved 2015). This chapter describes the variety, history, and role of digital memorials in contemporary American mourning and examines whether and how digital memorials contribute to, or actually detract from, the grieving process.

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