SOME PEOPLE turn to the Internet to conquer boredom, to mingle in
virtual electronic cocktail parties, or to map a vacation. For some,
it's death that brings them online.
The Internet can let you:
* Build memorials that can survive through millennia, needing
only electronic backup systems to survive.
* Reach out for the support of an understanding community in
times of grief.
* Stroll through a marketplace where you can find funeral
services, urns or a boat ride to scatter your ashes.
* Give you a voice in an uncensored open space, letting you
explore fantasies, fears and emotions.
You can find newsgroups for the grieving, sites for bereaved
parents, galleries of urns for the cremated and graveyards for
favorite pets. You can find World Wide Web sites and newsgroups
dedicated to genealogy and to updates on who's dead and who's not.
Newspapers, radio and television can announce a death, but in the
world of mass media markets, substantial obituaries are reserved for
the movers and shakers: political bigwigs, art collectors, hostile
takeover geniuses and great baseball pitchers. The little people get
a little bit of little type or nothing.
On the Web, post-mortem democracy rules. Perpetuated in
cyberspace are the memories of Japanese fathers, Italian immigrant
physicians, LSD guru Timothy O'Leary, AIDS victims, cats and
puppies, German mothers, the never-too-dead Elvis, suicide victims
from Texas, and Vietnam veterans.
Julie Jones, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of
Missouri at Columbia, died suddenly Oct. 8 in her sleep in a dorm
room. Julie was a gifted jazz pianist, writer and singer, a fan of
Tori Amos, and a fun, caring person. She was from Kirkwood, her
parents' only child.
Her death was later diagnosed as the result of a cerebral
aneurysm, a condition that leads to the weakening of an artery in
the brain and its possible rupture. Her classmates and friends
needed to talk about her death.
"I feel the horror that you feel when someone young and gifted
dies," said Greg Foster, who taught Julie's English class at MU.
On the day of her death, Julie sent him an essay. It didn't quite
fit the assignment, but it cast a strange light on her death. She
wrote about an old story, one in which two radio operators at sea
order each other to change course to avoid collision. The captain of
a ship, a Navy carrier, stubbornly refuses to change course; the
other operator is in charge of a lighthouse.
Julie wrote about fatalism: "Like the Navy carrier, many people
are bullheaded in their ways of storming through life. They do not
check to see if what they are headed into is more than they can
Foster put Julie's essay on the Web, along with a page on which
her friends and classmates can write about her. That's how the Web
site came to be named The Lighthouse.
"I am shivering as I write this because I was sitting in this
very chair when I last spoke to Julie," wrote Jo Ann Niebruegge, who
met Julie i n August at school. She wrote about how they both were
joining sororities, exchanged e-mail and how yet another round of
college-death urban legends makes her sick.
The Web, some Internet dwellers say, revolutionizes the way
people deal with death. What was once an intensely private
experience now turns into an emotional electronic stream that people
can share with thousands of others.
"It is a protest against the impersonal nature of society,"
Dennis Klas says of the death-related folklore sprouting online.
Klas counsels for the Group on Death, Dying and Bereavement, one of
the multitude of support groups in St. Louis and around the country
where people share their experiences of dealing with death.
"People don't die at home. We don't see dead bodies anymore," he
Our medical system has evolved to give us freedom from diseases
and, therefore, longer lives. …