How we mourn on Facebook now, not at a cemetery

Share this article

I’d never been to Bristol before, until last month I was dispatched there to make a film for the BBC about digital assets and what happens to them on death.

Digital assets are assets held online, be they financial (such as bank accounts), social (such as Facebook or Twitter), or sentimental (such as photos or music).

Gary Rycroft.

Gary Rycroft.

­I arrived after dark and headed for the designated location for the shoot, a sprawling Victorian Cemetery called Arnos Vale. It is home to many of the finest Bristolians of days past (including a doctor who worked out cholera was infecting his patients through the water supply) and arriving by lamplight with the mist swirling it was certainly atmospheric.

My destination was the Cemetery Cafe, some five minutes stride from the iron-gated entrance. There I found a friendly film crew and director and guests at a “Death Cafe”, a place where tea and cake was served and mortality pondered.

One guest was Emma of ‘Not being Morbid” and indeed she wasn’t. Aged in her 30s and having had a couple of close bereavements, she is on a mission to de-stigmatise death and dying by getting her generation to talk about it more.

Another guest was Nick. His 21-year-old daughter Hollie was stalked and then murdered by her ex-boyfriend in February 2014. Every parents’ nightmare. Since then, Nick has thrown himself into campaigning for more awareness of domestic violence. He now trains people how to spot the warning signs. His altruism in adversity was truly inspiring.

Nick’s issue was that he wants to retain Hollie’s Facebook profile as a memorial to her. Social media, rather than a cemetery, is often where people mourn nowadays. But on Hollie’s profile there are photos of her murderer. I was there to advise Nick on how he can resolve this complex issue. I suggested he and his wife, as the persons entitled to Hollie’s estate can revoke the copyright of any the photos she took, so Facebook would be compelled take down the offending ones. I do hope for his sake they Facebook and their lawyers take my point.

It all reinforced my view that death in the digital age certainly has extra challenges for those left behind.