Mourning becomes electric: Tech changes the way we grieve
— -- A video camera, audio files and blogging software all helped Diane DiResta handle the recent deaths of loved ones.
When her 91-year-old aunt passed away in 2010, DiResta videotaped the eulogies to create a record of the moving words spoken. She wasn't ready to talk about her aunt at the service, so she used AudioAcrobat to record her thoughts, then e-mailed that audio file to close family.
After a cherished 89-year-old uncle died in Las Vegas in February — and there was no service or Mass to follow — the New York City resident again turned to technology.
"Since there was no way for the family to share his life and express their grief together, I created a blog," she says. "I added pictures, and family members were able to post their memories of him."
This is Mourning 2.0. Technological advances have dramatically altered how we grieve for and memorialize the dead.
In this new era, the bereaved readily share their sorrow via Facebook comments. They light virtual candles on memorial websites, upload video tributes to YouTube and express sadness through online funeral home guest books. Mourners affix adhesive-backed "QR code" chips to the tombstones of their beloved, so visitors can pull up photos and videos with a scan of a smartphone.
Those in need of consolation can replay the streaming video of a funeral service to hear a cleric's comforting words. Those who want help remembering a yahrtzeit — the anniversary of death in the Jewish faith — can get e-mail reminders from websites such as ShivaConnect.com.
"It would be naive to assume that technology would leave the 'death sector' unaffected," says Ari Zoldan, CEO of wireless-products provider Quantum Networks. "Technology has pervaded all aspects of our lives, and the honoring of our dearly departed is no exception."
At the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association's convention in Las Vegas in March, high-tech companies mingled with the more expected urn suppliers and casket makers on the exhibition floor. There were firms that created memorial websites and streamed online funeral videos, as well as producers of the QR codes that go on headstones and urns.
The pitch from LifeMarker, one of those QR producers: "Since the beginning of time, the memorial process has changed very little. Until now."
The new mourning rituals come as society increasingly embraces all things digital. Nearly half of Americans own smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center. One in five owned a tablet in January, up from one in 10 in December. Eight in 10 are on the Internet — and two-thirds of those online users tap into social-media sites.
"People are getting much more comfortable with multimedia," says Elaine Haney, CEO of Tributes.com, an online publisher of local and national obituaries. "It's become simple for people of just about any age to use."
Many mourners already use Facebook as a gathering place to express their grief, often posting messages on the profile page of the deceased. Some speak directly to the departed, leaving sentiments such as "I miss you," "Thinking of you" and even "Happy birthday in heaven." Others post words of support for the family, recall fond memories and continue to "tag" the deceased in old photos that are newly uploaded.