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Old 04-10-2006, 09:08 AM   #1
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E-Grieving-Mourning Via The Web

What do you think of sending sympathy/mourning in that way? I like what the author has to say about it. Are there any things that are just too sacred, that we need to be more personal about? Or can the web be just as personal?

By Mark Pothier, Boston Globe | April 9, 2006

The mourning began by e-mail. In the hours after my father's death in January, friends and relatives sent me messages of support and sympathy. Many arrived before the calls and hugs, and their number almost rivaled the daily influx of spam.A few days later, as I scrolled down the computer screen past subject lines like "We just heard" and "Can we do anything?" I felt comforted.

It occurred to me that a means of communication often derided for being impersonal and casual to the point of carelessness somehow suited this sorrowful occasion. For me, e-mailed sympathy had become acceptable. These electronic notes conveyed genuine emotions. Consoling by computer was fast and effective - perfectly normal. The thoughts people tapped out on keyboards did not strike me as a way for them to avoid the process of composing a handwritten note, addressing an envelope, and affixing a stamp to it. They responded electronically because they cared. E-mail offered an immediacy not possible through the US mail and a level of intimacy that can be difficult to achieve by phone, especially when one or both parties is in a workplace.

Other people did send cards the traditional way, and I was happy to have them fill some of the void that followed the funeral-planning blur. The cards' boilerplate bromides - "At this difficult time," "You're in our thoughts" - were effectively rendered invisible by the heart-felt notes inside. I kept them on the kitchen counter for a couple of weeks and returned to the stack regularly for a tactile form of grieving. But I did not hold the hard-copy expressions in any higher regard than those delivered by a "send" click.

For most people, e-mail is now the preferred way to communicate the written word. We are so dependent on keyboards that our handwriting has been reduced to indecipherable scrawls. Some of us even pay our monthly bills by computer, eliminating one of the last reasons to clutch a pen: the personal check.

As bereavement also moves on-line, the "death care" industry, as trade insiders call it, has come to realize the potential electronic grieving offers. The buzzword is "personalization." Technology has spawned innovation for a business that historically traded in formality. One-kind-suits-all funeral services were the norm. The color was always black. The undertaker knew best. Today, funeral-home websites, once little more than static advertisements, routinely include message boards, photo galleries, and other ways to share anecdotes, thoughts, and tributes. They post downloadable videos compiled from family movies and snapshots, and memorial services are sometimes webcast live. They promote "celebrations" of life instead of drab death notices.

When both of my in-laws died last year, the funeral home's online "memorial guest book" quickly filled with entries from places like Florida, England, and Texas. People who could not travel to the services were able to attend a sort of virtual wake. They appreciated the chance to participate from afar. Computers made it simple.

Naturally, this new way of dealing with death creates opportunities for high-tech entrepreneurs, too. Those seeking to gain from others' losses find the Internet to be a versatile tool. Hundreds of websites with links to products and services offer an array of sympathy e-cards, their false sentiments rivaling the disingenuous wail of a disgraced television evangelist. For instance, one company's "Not ever gone, just moved on" card is accented with a grape-dark purple border and includes a not-so-subtle offer for retail store discounts. Other e-cards allow mourners to select from an assortment of images, headings, and accompanying music (like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "You Are Not Alone"). "Virtual cemeteries" encourage online visitors to "engrave" epitaphs on photographs of headstones superimposed on equally fake lush backgrounds. Usually for a fee, of course.

Some will shudder at such blatant commercialism, blaming it on a world where convenience bests formal notions of respect for the dead. But insincerity is the same at any speed, whether it comes through a website or post office. I've decided not to measure condolences by the amount of ink, money, or time spent but the thought invested.

And I suspect my father would have appreciated those e-mails as much as the flowers that enveloped his casket.
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Old 04-10-2006, 11:23 AM   #2
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Re: E-Grieving-Mourning Via The Web

Quote:
Originally posted by MrsSpringsteen
But insincerity is the same at any speed, whether it comes through a website or post office. I've decided not to measure condolences by the amount of ink, money, or time spent but the thought invested.
I agree wholeheartedly.

Quote:
Originally posted by MrsSpringsteen

Are there any things that are just too sacred, that we need to be more personal about? Or can the web be just as personal?
I would say yes and no. I guess the way you reach out depends to a large degree on the relationship, timing and location. I'm sure there are situations where one person can perceive another's web communication as avoidance of more personal contact in which case it can be alienating.

On the other hand, the web can also serve to be even more personal than virtually any other mode of communication in some situations.

A few years ago, a good friend of mine from "back home" and his wife were going through an unimaginable battle with a rare form of cancer (she wasn't even 30 yet). They travelled to a US city for radical surgery and subsequently torturous treatment for 8 weeks and were mostly there alone except for the odd family member or close friend who could spend a couple of days at a time with them.

My friend used email to a list of friends and family as a daily journal and update (before it became all the rage and called blogging). This guy is in life the epitome of the strong silent type. However the level of medical and personal detail he was revealing in real time as this experience unfolded was astonishingly deep and personal. While he initially did it to be pragmatic in trying to record and understand the technical aspects of the medical situation and also avoid being repetitive by phone, it turned out to be his biggest source of energy and support for dealing with what was happening to the love of his life. Something he didn't even realize until it was over.

Email meant we could all share, understand and support them in this experience in a way we never could had she been in a local hospital where we could visit or call more regularly where most of what was happening and being felt would be left unsaid. Know what I mean?
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Old 04-10-2006, 01:35 PM   #3
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thanks AliEnvy, that's an interesting story about your friend and nice to know
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Old 04-10-2006, 05:05 PM   #4
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A girl at my school had been diagnosed with brain cancer and her mom kept an online journal of sorts on some site that was specifically for that sort of thing (I wish I could remember what it was called). She just put updates, stories, pictures, etc and people posted messages of support. She eventually passed away and there were literally hundreds of messages from people from our school, parents, and just people who came across the site. It definitely seemed to help her mom, at least from what I saw and she said. None of it seemed cold or insincere.

In general I don't think email is necessarily a cold form of communication. I've had some great conversations through email even with people I see everyday anyway...it just allows you to think out what you want to say and put more thought into it.
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Old 04-10-2006, 05:08 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by VertigoGal

In general I don't think email is necessarily a cold form of communication. I've had some great conversations through email even with people I see everyday anyway...it just allows you to think out what you want to say and put more thought into it.
I agree, I have too

Also maybe some people are much more comfortable discussing serious illness and death and conveying sympathy in that manner rather than face to face
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Old 04-10-2006, 05:26 PM   #6
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My experiences with this have thankfully been few.

When I was a sophomore in college, one of my best friends got cancer. Actually, the summer before she started college, she'd had an 8lb tumor removed from her abdomen. My freshmen year, she was one of my assigned suitemates and me and my roommate (best friend from HS) basically became best friends with our assigned suitemates. So our sophomore year, she had to move out of the dorms, but we promised we'd all live together off campus the next year (we're required to stay on for two). Anyway, Amanda's cancer came back and was all over her body. She was in the hospital for months before she died. I visited her, but she was very, very sick and so it wasn't the time to really discuss her condition. Her mom started an e-mail list of family and friends and each week she'd give an update on Amanda's condition and we'd all forward it to everyone who was concerned. After Amanda died, we continuted to receive the updates about how her family was coping. I really appreciated these e-mails because since we became friends in college, I never really knew her family and otherwise would not have corresponded with them beyond going to her visitations and funeral.

A lifelong family friend has had several issues with his kidneys throughout his life. Years ago, he received a new kidney from his dad. The disease that killed his own kidneys eventually killed this new one. Then for years he had no kidneys and did his own dialisis 4 times a day. He recently got a new kidney from his mother-in-law. They had to go to Mayo for the surgery and stay in transplant housing. Only close family could travel to visit him. They set up this thing called a Care Page where someone would post updates on his condition every few hours. I don't think the messages posted on his forum were any less genuine because they were electronic. If it had not been for the Care Page, he would've had hardly any correspondance of encouragement because he was so far away from home.
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Old 04-11-2006, 02:54 PM   #7
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Email and internet is just another medium for communicating, albeit on a grand and global scale. I believe this can be good. Personally I can attest to this.

2 weeks ago I lost my grandmother. Close friends and family have been supportivbe during the past year of ups and downs as she had been ill. In addition to this group of friends and family I include Interference. I have kept a journal and posted about this past year and I have received such a wonderful outpouring of support and smiley hugs that has meant more than I could ever describe. When my grandmother passed, she didn't want a memorial or burial rather to have her body cremated and have the Cremation Society scatter her ashes in a designated area. I respect that as I respected my grandmother. She was hereone day and gone the next. Her things or what was left have been disposed of or passed on to family and friends, her estate is already being divided through her trust and Will. I did have an opportunity to have spoken to my grandmother 2 days before she passed so I Feel we had our last goodbye and accept that she just wanted to go. She is with my grandfather in Heaven and I am happy about that thought. Yes I miss her. I have had some tears, I have had some hugs from close friends. I speak on the phone with family talking about my grandmother nearly every day and know this will taper off. But I have to say, it is the people I didn't even know, people mostly from Interference, who have sent condolences and wishes of sympathy to me in posts, PMs, e-cards, emails and I even received the only sympathy card to date in the snail mail from someone I've befriended here on Interference who I've never even met! It's very heartwarming and the support we choose to accept into our lives for various reasons makes such a difference in our lives, no matter where it comes from.
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