1. McCartney, Patricia PhD, RNC, FAAN

Article Content

Rituals for celebrating life and mourning death are essential for healing in bereaved families. Online technology and social networking are expanding and transforming the traditional rituals of newspaper obituaries and live memorial services into dynamic new formats. The Internet's constant accessibility, along with the technology for hyperlinks and uploading images, audio, and video with few limitations on space and content, enables creativity and widespread participation by mourners. The bereaved are not an audience on the Internet; they are contributors.


Although print obituaries follow a limited and proscribed journalistic form and content (deceased's name, family, valued attributes, and funeral information), the evolving online versions of obituaries vary widely in form and content. Newspapers with online sites post the journalist's traditionally scripted obituary and often a "guest book" for mourner's participation. This guest book is generally a hyperlink to a commercial site that the deceased's family has purchased. The majority of U.S. newspapers partner with (, a commercial site that hosts online obituaries, guest books, and memorials, to provide the guest book. The site may be tailored for the particular newspaper by incorporating the newspaper logo, and appearing to be part of the actual newspaper to users. Legacy collaborates with thousands of newspapers worldwide and is one of the most visited sites in the United States. The site contains comprehensive resources including guidance on creating memorials and sympathy etiquette.


Journalism and mass communication scholars have researched mourner behavior in online obituary and memorial formats. Hume and Bressers (2009-2010) examined obituaries linked to online guest books at major U.S. daily newspapers using narrative and discourse analysis. Mourners included the deceased's family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, along with healthcare workers and even strangers. Mourner's behaviors fell into three categories: sending messages to the deceased and the deceased's family, expressing emotions, and telling stories. Mourners frame the content of the death stories, interact, and foster a virtual community. The report did not specifically address behavior with deceased children.


DeGroot (2012) studied online memorials on the social networking site Facebook, where memorials have grown in popularity. Grounded theory was used to describe messages posted by mourners on a convenience sample of publically accessible memorial group walls for deceased individuals from 13 to 20 years old, an adolescent sample. Mourner posts were categorized into two grieving functions: Sensemaking (how the grieving makes sense of the death, through expressions of shock, spirituality, lamentations, questions, and prose) and Continuing Bonds (how the grieving renegotiates a new identity with the deceased, through posting emotions and memories). Mourners used the social media medium to continue communication to the deceased and often posted to the deceased as if the deceased could read the posts. People who knew the deceased, and sometimes people who did not know the deceased, posted messages to other group members.


The Internet provides many opportunities for participatory health, including bereavement. Researchers comment that grieving online without face-to-face interaction may be less inhibiting and that memorial sites provide a grieving opportunity for those who cannot attend a face-to-face service. Nurses who care for families when a child dies should be aware of online obituaries and memorials, as families may want to engage in these new formats. Nurses who research bereavement may want to extend their investigations to virtual obituaries and social networking memorials.




DeGroot J. M. (2012). Maintaining relational continuity with the deceased on Facebook. Omega (Westport), 65(3), 195-212. doi:10.2190/OM.65.3.c [Context Link]


Hume J., Bressers B. (2009-2010). Obituaries online: New connections with the living-and the dead. Omega (Westport), 60(3), 255-271. doi:10.290/OM.60.3.d [Context Link]