Modern Grief: Digital Ephemera and Coping with Loss

Photo by Dewet CCBY

At The Walrus, Nancy Westaway finds comfort in the digital footprints left behind by her husband Jonathan, who died of esophageal cancer at the age of 50.

But I know I am trying to do the impossible: to reanimate the love of my life word-by-word, tweet-by-tweet, text-by-text.

At first I was uncomfortable with the online grieving. When people clicked “like” on Jon’s obit after it was posted to Facebook, it felt remote and impersonal as if someone was taking something that belonged to the kids and me. But digital death notices and online goodbyes are part of modern love. When I saw the names of people I had never met posting their condolences on a friend’s page, I understood it. When I die, I want my friends to be comforted too.

After he died, Jon’s online presence grew and then faded into the ether. Now, when I Google his name late at night, I see he has slipped further and further down in the search results.

Sometimes I forward emails from Jon’s account to mine to keep track of something important. And even though I know I’ve just sent myself an email from his account, my heart still leaps when I see his name appear in my inbox.

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