Academic journal article Western Folklore

Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century. By Candi K. Cann. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2014. Pp. xii + 199, preface, introduction, photographs, acknowledgements, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00 hardcover.)

Candi K. Cann begins her book, Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century, with a preface that disrupts the reader's expectations. She tells us that on the same day she sent her book proposal to her publisher, her brother was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later. She explains how she was able to connect with the manuscript on a deep level, as it coincided with her own journey through grief. Cann's deep understanding of the process of grieving, both personal and academic, is reflected throughout her book. While considering why popular memorialization is growing and expanding along several paths (including memorial tattoos, Facebook pages, and even car decals), she also helps the reader understand the need for such memorials, and the catharsis they can provide. Mourning, she explains, was once expected to take months, if not years. Yet, in our modern era, people who have lost their loved ones are expected to bounce back within weeks. In fact, many corporations throughout the United States provide as little as three days to mourn the loss of an immediate family member, and many do not even offer bereavement leave for the loss of extended family.

With her explanations of corporate policies and current mourning practices, paired with examples from fieldwork and interviews, Cann shows how the way we mourn has changed over the last hundred years. The surge in popular memorializations arises, then, out of a need to process the grief, and "make meaning in a world that denies it" (146). Along the way, Cann argues that this process of making meaning through popular memorializations "democratizes death and gives a voice to marginal grievers" (xii).

Cann's work is most successful when she is exploring those marginal voices and the memorials they create. She flawlessly integrates the discourse of mourning-from Facebook posts to tombstones to eulogies-exploring the landscape of bereavement with an eye for material culture. The book itself displays several well-chosen and illustrative examples of popular memorializations. …

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