by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Isn’t it a shame,” someone says, “that we only see each other on such sad occasions?”

It is the most common sentence at a funeral. You hear it from relatives, ex-neighbors, friends who moved out of state.

Only death, it seems, can make us slow down long enough to reunite. We hug. We kiss. We share a collective grief, until someone remembers a story that makes someone else smile. And in the end, we are reminded not only of how much we love the dearly departed but also how much we love the ones who are still around.

It is the rare good thing, I always thought, to come out of funerals.

So I am concerned about a 21st Century trend: Internet mourning. This is the practice of posting a memorial Web site in which visitors can do much of what they would do at a funeral parlor or cemetery: Express their grief, share a story, sign a registry, send flowers.

But they never have to leave home.

Clients starting to expect it

Internet memorials are a small but growing trend in this country. Funeral parlors have gone from wondering whether they should use computer technology to being asked by customers why they don’t have it.

One popular outfit in this business is called LifeFiles. When you go to its Web site, you get a search engine that will find the dead person’s file — as long as you provide a few letters of the last name.

Once in that file — which opens, typically, with a photo of the deceased and a small obituary — you can click on a number of options, including main page, services, guest book, donations, life legacy and even a photo album.

There are also two boxes you can click: send a card or send flowers.

Now I am not one of those chip-hating computer illiterates. I leave that to my mother. Her favorite line is, “If I learn e-mail, you won’t call me anymore.”

As usual, she is more right than wrong.

Which is precisely the danger in Internet memorials. Although they might be well-intentioned, the very thing they spare you is the thing a mourner needs.

Human contact.

Convenient but dangerous

Clicking on photographs might remind you of a dead friend, but sitting alongside his widow, flipping pages of a photo album, is the kind of contact a mourner craves.

Posting a few paragraphs might show your writing skills, but telling the story to the family will warm more hearts.

“Why wouldn’t your loved one deserve this type of memorial?” the chief executive of LifeFiles said in a recent story.

Well, that depends. For one thing, once an Internet memorial is online, anyone can view it. What if some crank who hated your wife decides to leave a sick message? What if bored hackers decide to tamper with your life legacy page?

Then there’s the tendency to be competitive: Do we really want to create status in who has the most elaborate Internet memorial?

It is not that the Internet can’t serve a purpose. People in faraway countries appreciate the chance to let a family know they are with them in spirit.

But we could do that before computers. They called it “a letter.” They called it “a phone call.” The anonymity of the Internet now allows people to type a condolence note while watching “The Sopranos.”

And that’s the point. You are supposed to be inconvenienced by death. Sure, I dread the whole funeral thing, the dark suit, the somber expressions, the reception line in which you wonder what to say.

But it is part of paying respect. It is part of saying, “A human being is gone.” And just as he lived in the flesh, he should be honored in the flesh.

He died. He wasn’t deleted.

“Isn’t it a shame,” someone says, “that we only see each other on such sad occasions?”

It is. But it’ll be a bigger shame when even the sad occasions aren’t enough.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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