There was a time when mourning rituals were steeped in etiquette. You knew exactly what to expect and how to demonstrate good manners. But all of that has changed with social media, emails, texts, and ever-evolving communications.
When a college student died unexpectedly, all of her friends replaced their Facebook profile photos to one of her. This has become a common trend; I know of several friends who have lost a family member and they too have changed their profile photos to one of the deceased. It is not just photos that are changed; it is not unusual to see profile photos turn different colors. When someone dies of breast cancer, photos turn pink. If the deceased has a favorite color, whether it is red or purple, photos turn that color.
What happens in the weeks and months following the death? When do you change the photo of the deceased to a different photo? Do you appear disrespectful if you are the first to change your photo? Or, do you wait until someone else does it? When you have posted the photo of your deceased loved one, if you change it after a few weeks or months, do you appear callous as if you have moved on? If you leave it for a year or years, will others think that you just can’t seem to get over it?
A family took the color trend one step further. After the death of their loved one they tied trees in their town with ribbons the favorite color of the deceased. It was a remarkable display the day of the funeral. But what about the days that follow? What happens when the colors fade and the rain and wind shred the ribbons? Is it disrespectful to cut the ribbons down? And whose responsibility is it?
These mourning trends are so new we are working without a guidebook. None of us want to offend or hurt the bereaved. If we take down photos, change our colors, or move faded memorials, does that give the impression that we no longer care? That we’ve stopped mourning?
What are your thoughts?
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.
Image via Wikimedia Commons/Gustave Dore