I'm sure it's happened many times before, I just wasn't where I could take note of it. But this time I noticed it when reading my brother's post that honors a friend he'd never met. With internet relationships, we have entered the age of virtual grief.
Through a common interest in photography, Tom, my brother, had a friendship with Dave Anderson, who recently died. The friendship was tied to their Flickr accounts, where they made comments on one another's photography. In his posting, Remembering SisuDave, Tom mentions other tributes posted to Dave. What better expression of loss would there be than for virtual friends to leave virtual condolences?
I've always kinda rolled my eyes when I read in obituaries where the funeral home says condolences can be sent to the family through their web site. I figured it was a way for the funeral home to generate more web traffic and have more advertisement exposure. And I thought to myself, if I couldn't make the visitation for a family I cared about, I think the proper thing to do would be to write a personal letter, not send an email through the funeral home. But those thoughts have concerned people known in real life.
Now through social networks on the web, people have relationships with internet friends and virtual communities. What is the proper way to express and deal with the loss when they no longer exist? And I suppose these tributes are not really for the family at all, as in a "real" visitation/wake. They are for the virtual community to process their loss, and to somehow acknowledge the human emotions behind the user names.
Is the day coming when we have online funerals? Don't laugh. There are already virtual churches. And there are many people fully intwined in social networks on the web. When a social group experiences a death, will the members all log in at a certain site to to say their goodbys? And will the online service attempt to reflect the faith of the person loss, or strive to be faith neutral? And who will fill the priestly roll of gathering the people into one, and voicing their loss, and grief, and hopes, and faith before God (or in a faith neutral attempt, the unknown)? Could get interesting....