The huge technological advances made since the turn of the century mean that a person’s digital legacy can now be quite considerable after they have died. But many people are also going online to gain much needed support offered by 24/7 connectivity.
Even without considering someone’s digital footprint, the sheer number of things to consider when someone dies can weigh heavily on even the most organised.
The list is extensive: registering the death, informing the various authorities, making funeral arrangements and negotiating wills. All are highly time-consuming at what can already be a difficult time.
Fortunately, some of these things have been helped by the greater connectivity the online world provides. The Tell Us Once service, for example, can reduce the time it takes to inform the various government and local authority agencies that someone has died.
Figuring out what to do with someone’s online presence after they have died has become such a significant area that organisations have been set up to address the issue. Dead Social is one which helps people to think about, plan and prepare their digital legacy after they have gone, such as writing a ‘social media will’ in which a person describes what they want to happen with their social network accounts. They also help with bereavement advice on what to do with someone’s website after they die.
Social media is perhaps the most obvious area that people now have to consider increasingly. Social networks such as Facebook now enable family and friends to convert a regular account into a memorialised one when someone dies. The account can then become a place for family and friends to share memories about someone after they have gone. Some people also like to create a new group on sites such as Facebook, which would provide a forum for people to remember them too.
The online world can also be of great value as a means of connecting people for peer support. We have found at Macmillan that the two bereavement specific groups on our online community have been a generous source of support and solace for those living with loss.
People can use the community in a range of ways: share their own experiences and emotions with those who have been through a similar situation, ask questions, or read what others have written. And all this, whether someone has been bereaved nine days or nine years ago.
Two recently published booklets on the subject of bereavement published by Macmillan Cancer Support offer advice on issues such as social media, as well as sign posting people to useful websites and online support.
After someone dies – coping with bereavement offers a broad range of practical information about what to do and what to expect when someone dies from cancer, including what can be done with social media accounts.
Alongside this, Preparing a child for loss, written with the bereavement charity for children, Winston’s Wish, highlights along with a wealth of other important advice, the important role online support could play for bereaved teenagers, such as the site riprap.
Both of these titles are available in electronic formats, which reflects how the online world not only allows greater connectivity but also flexibility.
As life and death become increasingly intertwined with the online world, this is an area that will only grow in importance; people who work with the bereaved can play a vital role in making sure a person’s digital legacy is considered and the opportunities to provide support and information virtually are offered.