Photo by Alex Green

Is technology changing the way we grieve?

Being online is now part of our daily lives – we might share family photos on Instagram, post our news on Facebook or like a colleague’s post on LinkedIn. So, it makes sense that we take to the internet when someone we love has died.

But is technology a help or a hindrance when it comes to grieving? And how can you find the best online grief resources to support you through bereavement?

The growth of 'grief-tech'

Technology plays a huge role in modern life, so it’s no surprise that it’s now having an impact on death. Nearly 60% of Co-op funeral directors have supported families to either live stream or video a funeral. This allows those who cannot attend to still feel included and can also help those who want to watch the video at a later date if it’s currently too painful.

The biggest area of ‘grief-tech’ is online. Some websites include options to write or record farewell messages to loved ones that are sent after your death. There’s also boom in websites that help you get your affairs in order, making it easier for family to access your information after you die.

When it comes to social media, researchers believe that by the year 2100 there will be more Facebook profiles for the dead than the living: 4.9 billion. These include both existing profiles of someone who’s died, or memorial pages where friends and family can still post messages.

Some experts are unsurprised by the rise in ‘grief-tech’. Andy Langford, clinical director of Cruse Bereavement Support, says this new technology can help people effectively manage their grief, both in terms of practical issues like sorting out an estate, and ‘helping them connect with the memories of the person who died’.

Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist and author of The Grief Collective, says this connection is incredibly important. ‘After a bereavement, people are looking for an emotional connection. This can be with the deceased, or with others who understand and validate our feelings,’ she says. ‘We know it helps to connect with others who ‘get’ our grief.’

This explains the public outpourings of grief online when a celebrity dies, or the many messages from friends on a loved one’s social media pages after their death.

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The new grief ‘e-tiquette’

Online grief is such a new area there are no formal regulations, but there are some general rules to follow. One of the most important is to check if immediate family and close friends of the person who died are aware what’s happened before you put anything on social media.

‘Unless you’ve been given permission to announce their death, take a step back and think about who might read your post,’ says Andy. ‘We’ve had parents who heard about a child’s death on social media before they officially had the news.’

Think carefully about what you want to say, too. Don’t post anything when you’re angry, or very emotional, that you might later regret. And don’t feel you have to say anything at all – generic expressions like ‘things happen for a reason’ can be more hurtful than comforting.

Dr Jessi Parrott, a host for Let’s Talk About Loss, a series of meet-up groups for bereaved young people, says you should also check with close family and friends if they’re happy for you share pictures on birthdays or anniversaries.

‘Ask if they’re OK with you tagging the deceased in photos, in case it shows up on their timeline,’ Dr Parrott says. ‘If they’re not prepared for it, it can be quite overwhelming.’

Do digital memories stop us moving on?

This can depend on where you are on your grief journey, as people need different support at different times. ‘Initially, it may be too painful to see photos and memories online,’ Dr Trent says, ‘but as you move through your distress, they can be consoling.’

It also depends on your attitude towards grief. ‘Some people are happy to be surrounded by photos of their loved one,’ Dr Trent continues, ‘but others have the mindset that you don’t talk about grief, so it won’t help.’ Just like all things bereavement, it’s completely personal.

Keeping all their photos or videos in one place, rather than scattered across social media, may help ease your grief. ‘It can be really distressing if you come across them unexpectedly,’ says Andy. ‘But memorial pages or platforms bring everything together, so you know where to access those memories when you want to.’

You could also maintain an online memorial, just as you would with a physical one. Rather than flowers, you can refresh the page with new photos or messages – but don’t feel you have to keep it going. Dr Trent says, ‘When it feels like looking backwards, but not in a way that’s useful, it may be time to stop. You can always take it up again later.’

Online grief support resources

There are numerous online grief resources available. Our partners, Cruse Bereavement Support offer dependable, professional advice, while The Good Grief Trust brings hundreds of trusted grief resources together. Or you could talk to a Cruse counsellor online.

If you’re not sure about an organisation or website, check if they’re a member of the National Bereavement Alliance. All their members must meet certain bereavement care standards.

Although technology may be changing the way we grieve, it cannot change grief itself. ‘But you don’t have to suffer,’ says Dr Trent. ‘You can move forward through grief and have a life that you enjoy.’

• See our guides for advice on planning a funeral, alternative memorial ideas, coping with bereavement, and more.