With online sperm and egg trade and social networking sites like Bebo, Facebook and MySpace, we already create and date on the Internet — so why not “cremate” online too?
Maggie Candy, a nurse trained in care of the elderly, thought she knew how to cope with death. But when her daughter Stella committed suicide at age 17 she found the adult world of condolence books, sympathy cards and graveyard headstones out-dated and lacking in what it could offer in Stella’s memory.
In the end she turned to her computer-savvy teenage son, the Internet, and a new world of online memorials and so-called “death networking” to create a fitting tribute.
“For most younger people now, the Internet is something they use every day and online memorials are a natural evolution,” she told Reuters.
Candy’s virtual memorial to her daughter was one of the starting blocks for what some call the latest “e-trend” in Britain.
Candy now runs a Web site, www.alwaysberemembered.co.uk, on which she offers the bereaved a way of paying tribute to their dead. Users create a memorial page with pictures, poems and tributes which can be visited, viewed and added to by anyone who feels a need.
Online shrines have been popular in the United States for some years, but in Britain they have only recently begun to grow in popularity — in part because of a spate of fatal stabbings and shootings among teenagers.
“In the past year there have been some very high profile stabbings and gun murders among young people and they have fuelled massive growth on our site,” says Nicola Davis, site manager of www.gonetoosoon.co.uk, one of Britain’s largest online memorials.
Like Candy’s site, Gone Too Soon began as a small, personal memorial site but has grown overwhelmingly since it was set up in November 2005. It now has tributes to more than 13,000 people and says more than 100 are added each day.
Founder Terry George points out that while the site’s celebrities inevitably draw the online crowds — there are memorials to the likes of Princess Diana and even Elvis — thousands of messages are also posted for the unknown dead.
He is convinced the main attraction of the site is that it offers a release for the emotions of the bereaved.
“I quite often sit and read it. I feel for people. It is quite morbid but you can feel the pain people are going through,” he says.
“What I think about is, where else would they be releasing this pain, anger and frustration if they didn’t have this site?”
“Virtual candles” are lit almost every day on gonetoosoon by friends of Adam Regis, a 17-year-old who was stabbed and left to die in an east London In March.
And for 15-year-old Billy Cox, shot in his bedroom in south London in February, new messages of sadness and anger pop up by the hour.
One posted by “lil’ gangsta squeaky” on August 18 shows how such sites are not only used as shrines, but have increasingly become a forum for “death networking” — a medium for users to discuss everything from gang culture, to suicide, to stillbirth.
“I didn’t know Billy Cox, but I wanted to be in a gang,” it reads. “Then Billy’s murder came on TV and that’s when I realized life’s too short to be in gangs and do drugs and guns and knives and stuff.”
Davis says that for a generation which spends so much of its time of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, it is quite natural to mourn and honor dead friends online.
“Young people find it easier to express themselves this way. If they had to visit graveyards or go to funerals they wouldn’t know what to say, but on the Internet they are more confident and comfortable with saying how they feel.”
Online memorials are also — perhaps unintentionally — catching the eye of Britain’s environmentally aware.
According to local media reports, authorities in the southern English town of Usk want to set up a memorial Web site to encourage residents to use burial land more efficiently.
Natural graveyards, where headstones and memorial statues are banned, would be paired up with online shrines featuring pictures of the burial plot or views from the grave.
Candy goes as far as to predict online shrines may soon consign cemeteries and graveyards to the past.
“Online memorials are good for the environment,” she says. “We are running out of space in this country for graves, and cemeteries — well yes, there are some nice ones, but generally speaking you wouldn’t want to live next door to one.
“With an online memorial, it can be private when I want it to be private, but it is always there, and there is some comfort that no matter where I go, I can go online and see it.”
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