Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grieving process goes online

Social media memorials new healing mechanism

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Social media isn't just a place to add friends, hashtag tweets and network. It has also become a place to mourn and celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us.

The family of Ana Márquez-Greene wants people to remember the love and faith the six-year-old once had, which is why they created the Remembering Ana Márquez-Greene Facebook page.

"The world is looking for healing, and want to pass along their sympathy," said Karen Schroeder, a family friend.

Márquez-Greene was among the 26 people who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. The young girl moved to Connecticut with her family from Winnipeg last year.

Ana's memorial page has more than 74,500 likes on Facebook. Her mother's post on Dec. 30 has more than 37,000 likes and 2,438 shares. The post ended with, "Three things will last forever -- faith, hope, and love -- and the greatest of these is love."

"They want people to remember her legacy," said Schroeder.

Schroeder said the family appreciates all the encouragement they've received and is overwhelmed by the support.

"Love is what will get us through," she said. "And this has gone worldwide."

John Berard, author of the 2011 book Consuming Youth, said some tragedies should be displayed on social media to stimulate discussion.

"Some events that are deeply tragic need to be public," said Berard. "It provides necessary conversation (about topics) such as gun control and bullying. It produces conversation for the common good."

However, Berard also feels that social media can be unhealthy when grieving the loss of a loved one.

"It's a healing mechanism for those closest to the situation," he said. "But such tragedies can be personal to those involved."

Julia Romanow, a Grade 12 student at Kelvin High School, died on Nov. 1, 2012 in a car accident on Wellington Crescent when the vehicle she was in hit a tree. The day after the accident, classmate Payton Eckert remembers the school as being very quiet.

"There was a shadow over everybody," she said.

That day, Eckert, who is also in Grade 12, expressed her feelings with a statement on Twitter that read "Kelvin is missing their angel."

Romanow's friends and classmates posted comments on the 17-year-old's memorial page such as "I miss you," and, "Thinking about you." Others wished Romanow a happy holiday.

Eckert said she uses social media to grieve.

"It definitely helps," she said. "You get to see what other people post about her -- their memories of Julia."

Eckert also uses social media as a means to feel closer to Romanow, who sat next to her in English class.

"After she died, I would call her cellphone just to hear her voice mail," she said. "Julia sounded so cute and quirky."

Richard Rosin, funeral director at the Neil Bardal Funeral Centre, said social media is used by younger generations to share their feelings with others.

"It's a huge grieving asset, especially for a young person," said Rosin. "There's a Facebook memorial page up in minutes where people can leave comments and express themselves."

Some believe Facebook has changed the way people heal.

Tammy Kunz of Powerview-Pine Falls, about 125 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, said she doesn't use Facebook, but went on to see what people were saying after her son was killed in a car accident in June 2008.

"Facebook helped because I could see what the kids were doing," said Kunz. "It's good to know they were still thinking about him."

Kunz said her son's friends still post on his wall and talk to him.

"They'll post stuff like, 'We went skateboarding and were talking about you today,'" she said. "Nolan really liked to skateboard."

But Kunz doesn't need Facebook to remember her son, because she lives with his memory every day.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about him," she said. "There's tears at least once a week. There always will be."

elizabeth.fraser@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 2, 2013 0

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