obituary websites
Online Memorials: Changing the Way We Grieve
By: Louise Zweben, CEO of SympathyTree.com

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Traditionally, when a loved one dies, the family places a small obituary in the local newspaper to inform friends and family of the deceased about their loved one's passing and any planned funeral events.  The funeral takes place and family and friends come together to mourn their loved one, share their memories, comfort each other and lean on each other.


In today's world, families are spread across the country and often across the world, so attending funerals has become increasingly difficult.  Combine this with the trend that fewer people read their local newspapers, but instead turn to the Internet for their daily news.  The traditional way of spreading news is changing.  Obituaries and events are no longer just accessed through daily newspapers, but through the Internet too.  In our hyper-connected society, we can plan, pre-plan and even R.S.V.P. to a funeral event with the click of a mouse.


Some newspaper publishers have recognized this trend and let readers post tributes to their loved ones in online versions of their newspapers, along with the rest of the daily news.  In addition, there are a growing number of companies dedicated solely to providing online memorial websites to lost loved ones.  Online memorials have been available for years but the recent explosion of social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and Twitter opens up more collaboration and possibilities for their adoption within the funeral industry.  These companies offer the ability to spread the news of the loss and funeral arrangements to family and friends across the world in minutes.  Family and friends can share their memories through words, photos and videos, donate to charities and send gifts and flowers.


Online memorial websites range from offering an easy way to post an online tribute to highly customizable websites with stories, poems, photos, videos and more.  Unlike traditional, static online obituaries, the collection of stories and pictures of the deceased in the online memorial continues to grow, becoming a living memory and reflection that is easily shared with future generations.  Some offerings even have donation capabilities for charities in honor of the deceased, as well as easy access to memorial offerings, gifts and flowers.  Similar to profiles on social networking sites, these memorials can be made private (viewable by friends and family only), or public (viewable by anyone with Internet access).


While families or friends of the family create most online memorials, funeral homes are now partnering with online memorial companies to offer their clients the option to create a rich memorial as a complementary service.  This provides a very convenient all-inclusive package for those families who do not have the time or are not emotionally ready to take on such a project but want a way to communicate using an electronic guestbook or website.  Some online sites offer live videos and webcasting of the funeral for those who cannot make the service.  This also helps people who are not as Internet savvy to incorporate the online memorial without having to take on the task themselves.  Whether a funeral ceremony is available online or if notifications are posted or distributed online, the end result is a special and unique service for families and friends during their time of need.


Online memorials in no way take the place of a funeral or a funeral director’s role with the family, but offer a complementary service and enhancement to a funeral home’s business.  These sites are a meaningful way for the family to interact and share their grief with friends and family members who cannot attend the funeral, or may feel at a loss for how to support someone who is grieving.  They can still show their support using an online memorial, help the healing process and connect after the funeral takes place.


Online memorials and websites also offer a starting point for families and friends that might not know where to begin with their grief.  Costs of these memorial websites vary depending on the sophistication and level of personalization desired, and some opt to create free videos.


How we interact and process information evolves on a daily basis but the importance of staying informed and connected stays the same.  If you lose a loved one, you should be able to share, grieve and honor the person you lost, no matter where you are.  With online memorials, the community is extended with a new address on the World Wide Web.