How Do We Deal With Death in an Online World?

How Do We Deal With Death in an Online World?

This post is dedicated to the memory of Kevin Johnstone, my dear brother-in-law who passed away March 9, 2013. I won’t say may he rest in peace because Kevin never rested in this life so I doubt that he is resting very much in the next. He lived life to the fullest right up to his final hours. All I can say is this: I’m going to miss you, Kevin! Family gatherings won’t be the same without you.

When I told my online friend Barbara, half a world away, that Kevin had died she wrote, “Were we closer to each other I’d rush over to take you for a walk and a memorial fire for Kevin. Maybe we can have a virtual fire?” I wish we were closer Barbara.

I love the idea of having a memorial fire as it so contrasts the virtual world in which we spend so much of our time today. We have a foot in both the online and the offline worlds and both worlds must be addressed when someone dies. It’s still so new to us that I don’t think we fully appreciate the ramifications of it.

Years ago my mother gave me a small piece of paper with “important info” written on it; instructions for what to do when she died. My “important info” consists of an envelope filled with instructions. It contains not only information regarding insurance and bank accounts but links to social media sites to which I belong, web site passwords, auto ship orders to cancel, and so much more.

There are other things to consider. If you are a blogger, have you written your “last” post or are you leaving it to someone else to announce your departure from this life? Offline there are funerals where we obtain some form of closure but what is there online and what should there be? How will we gather to grieve when we lose someone in our online communities?

Even when we are not the person who is handling the affairs, the funeral doesn’t signify the end of our responsibilities to the person we have lost. This person is one of our “Contacts”. At some point, sadly, it comes down to us to delete them. That’s not an easy thing to do.

What are your thoughts on dealing with death in the online world? Does your “important info” envelope include all that needs to be addressed when you leave this life?

photo: Kevin at the top of a ski hill.

I’ll be away from the porch for a few days attending a wake, a funeral, and, yes, a memorial fire. Help yourself to cookies and beverages and keep the conversation going while I’m away.

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About The Author


I am passionate about writing and community building. I’ve written a book about healing and happiness, The Happy Place, as well as a Community Building book, Sounding the Drum: Community Building in the Digital Age, now available at any Amazon store. I’ve been through life changes that I thought were the end of my world, but I’m still here. I never know what will happen next. Isn’t that what makes life interesting?