Hashtagging the Deceased, It’s Real

December 14, 2015
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Article originally appeared on Funeral Guru Liz

In an attempt to handle all funeral-related issues, I have gotten multiple degrees and certifications and am continually furthering my education. The most fascinating and educational moments, however, always come from everyday life.

Because funerals are still a taboo topic in America, and there is no up-to-date Emily Post guide to modern funerals, I receive daily inquiries from those asking if something is normal or appropriate. Interestingly, while the country is becoming more technologically advanced, and trends are developing, few in the funeral industry are addressing them; we are changing much more rapidly than our funerals.

Recently, I got a call from one of my closest friends, Melissa*. A peer of hers, who was in his early thirties, had a traumatic accident and died suddenly. Melissa and I met a few days later to speak about the incident. By my assessment, she was handling the situation as well as could be imagined; she had grieved with others and was on her way to a second memorial that had been organized in New York, which was not the deceased’s hometown. Right away, I was impressed that this younger group of mourners had stepped up to memorialize the deceased in the personal way that he (most likely) would have wanted, rather than just stick to tradition.

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Melissa rang me the next day. “You’re not going to believe this… there is a full on social media frenzy since the party. I have gotten the worst backlash.” When I inquired how this turn of events happened, I was given the brief response, “I hashtagged him.”

So here’s the quickest description of what happened: Melissa, in an attempt to open up the grieving to others who could not attend the events or simply wanted to share pictures, had tagged her pictures with the typical #grieving #loss #memory and added #JackGrady.* Then, another friend of Jack’s, felt it was totally inappropriate to turn Jack into a mere hashtag, and on social media scolded Melissa for being so insensitive and “classless.”

Granted, I am likely to defend my friends, especially Melissa, who is one of the most compassionate people I know, but even if I weren’t bias, her explanation makes sense. Being someone who has thousands of followers and shares her own life on social media, she knows the power of the share and was moved by the fact that if you clicked on said hashtag, you were able to see her photos of Jack along with dozens of pictures that others had added. It was a modern memorial album.

So, was Michelle right in hastagging Jack? I always tell clients that there is not an obvious right or wrong when it comes to grieving. I will, however, point out that our society has realized the power of online memorials; there are plenty of companies who are trying to make a industry of it. We live in a culture where everything is shared on social media. While I can understand the shock of seeing a person suddenly turned into a hashtag, (something that is typically used for content,) I think we must remember the bigger picture. Barring some extreme examples, I feel that anything that brings people together after a traumatic loss is a good thing. What do you all think?

*names have been changed

Post Script: The two girls exchanged a myriad of emails after the incident and the friend apologized to my dear Melissa and explained that she was simply having difficulty dealing with the loss and clearly overreacted.

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