Are Facebook Memorial Groups More Helpful Than Traditional Death Rituals?

Facebook has become a common site for reaching out to others, creating a sense of support and connection. Additionally, it has become a site to express grief and bereavement through the creation of memorial groups. Research suggests a range of benefits, uses, and applications of this new death ritual.

The memorial group is able to encompass elements present within a variety of rituals, including sharing information regarding arrangements, supporting others, expressing loss, and remaining connected to the deceased. Part of the success of memorial groups appears to be the ease in which usage of the site conforms to the desires of grieving individuals. Facebook memorial groups create a gathering of individuals through the shared experience of grief. According to participants, connecting with others remains a primary component within the memorial group. The online practice allows for the benefits of both the social support and the privacy needed to display emotion. Additionally, meaning making remains a critical component of the grieving process; it appears that through the sharing of photos and videos within memorial groups, members are able to adopt a macro perspective, beginning the process of meaning making. Further, the memorial group becomes a place to both commemorate the life and ensure remembrance of the deceased. The outpouring of support and love acts as proof of the impact and importance of the individual.

Facebook memorial groups include the necessary components of traditional rituals, as well as several advantages, such as accessibility and continuity. Memorial groups are not limited by time or space, allowing individuals to access services as necessary. The ease of sharing through the site, as well as the opportunity of a large following, further supports the utilization of memorial groups. Individuals are able to express the hurt, disbelief, and sense of loss experienced as often as necessary. Compared with other rituals, the memorial group provides more opportunities to vent. It is an ongoing ritual, allowing members to access the group over an indefinite period of time. Memorial groups also have more options in terms of timing, location, and content. The memorial group can be tailored to different needs, providing opportunities for individuals to participate in a meaningful activity.

A recent study found that 98.5 percent of responders would recommend the creation of a memorial group to others. Further, 59 percent of responders rated the memorial group as more helpful than traditional death rituals, and 37.7 percent rated the memorial group as at least as helpful as traditional rituals. This suggests that individuals who actively utilize the technology appear to identify significant personal benefit. While Facebook may never surpass traditional death rituals, it has become a viable and lasting opportunity for individuals to continue to receive necessary support and grieve the loss of loved ones. Memorial group creators identify myriad benefits from the use of the groups, such as social support, opportunities to express feelings, memory sharing, and a continuing connection with the deceased, clearly establishing memorial groups as an important ritual of mourning.

Jordan Fearon is a doctoral candidate in psychology at Antioch University New England.

Category: Q&A


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