Grieving and Bereavement in the Digital Age
As a practicing psychotherapist for over 25 years, I’ve experienced my share of patients who are reeling from the death of a loved one. Whether it’s due to a protracted medical illness, an accident, old age or suicide, often those left behind experience a full spectrum of emotional reactions. Grief, loss, sadness, depression and often derealization, depersonalization and a sense of numbness. It is not abnormal to not know how you feel when someone dear to you passes away.
Having lost grandparents and both parents and an older brother, I understand the process of the emotional hills and valleys following the death of a loved one.
But even as you are handling the loss there are practical considerations to handle. The funeral, the bills, the property, the announcements.
And now, with the internet, the decisions about how to handle their online presence.
How Do I Handle Their Social Media and Electronic accounts?
Sometimes, after we lose a loved one, we must consider what to do with their electronic, digital identities and digital memories online. Do we want to be reminded regularly by our social media accounts that our deceased loved one is one of our friends?
And do you want to keep those last few phone messages from your deceased mother?
Is it disrespectful to delete their information from your phone and contact lists?
In some ways, saying goodbye to digital accounts, social media connections and contact information in your phone and computer can feel like a second and third set of goodbyes.
Then, too, saying goodbye in this way can make the passing of the loved one feel more real, less of a hallucination.
Having contact info, phone messages, online identities floating around and in your technology can be a way of denying the loss.
At the same time, you may want to preserve these memories in a way that they wont disappear with the loss, or damage of the phone.
You may not want to delete the contact info because by doing that you may also delete all of their phone messages. Here’s a way to preserve their last messages whether its text or voicemail:
Preserving VoiceMail messages
We’re going to go through a more specific process later in this article but in general–Choose the smartphone option to save the message in your Dropbox, iCloud or Google Drive. That allows you to save the message as an MP3.
Save the message as a file and email it to your own email address.
Save the file to your computer and to a cloud based platform as well as to a portable hard drive or flash drive.
Hacking your Loved One’s Phone
Its not easy to delete a deceased loved one’s accounts OR to get immediate access to their pictures etc. Apple in particular makes their phones unhackable. However you can go to Apple Support to see if you can gain access to their Cloud based backups.
Google and Droid based phones are a bit easier and you can contact Google and go through their vetting process to see if they’ll give you access to your beloved one’s online cloud data as well which they may have synched from their phone.
Hacking Their Computer
Accessing their home computer is much easier if their data hasnt been encrypted. You can remove their hard drive and use a USB adapter cable to view their data.
Hacking Your Loved One’s Social Media
Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and others all have their own policies that require some rigorous questioning abefore they will allow a loved one to gain access to accounts.
You might think that accounts would be closed automatically after a period of inactivity, but actually that’s not always the case. Facebook will keep the account active until they are notified otherwise, whereas Twitter will close the account after six months of inactivity. If you’re looking to close down the social media accounts of someone who has passed away, it’s important to understand the procedures and requirements, as it’s slightly different from one provider to another.
How to close Facebook account when someone dies
As the world’s largest social networking site, Facebook is the one which is most frequently required to be closed down by grieving loved ones. You can take a Facebook account out of action by either deactivation or deletion, or if you want to you can now memorialize the account.
It’s easy to do all these things if you have the person’s email address and password, but if you don’t you will need some further information, including:
• A birth certificate
• A death certificate or link to an obituary or news article about their death
• Proof of authority to act upon their behalf
If you decide to keep the account active but in memorial, other friends and family members can still look back through the deceased’s photographs and updates. You can also put an announcement at the top of their page, such as a date for a memorial service, and can even let new friends and family members connect to their account post mortem so they can get to know them better.
Here’s the direct link to Facebook instructions:
Closing a Twitter account for Deceased
With around 310 million active users, Twitter is a major networking site too. They do have a policy of deactivating an account after around six months of inactivity, but it can be launched again if someone hacks into the account later on.
To be sure it’s closed, it’s better to ask for official deactivation or deletion from Twitter. With no email address and password, you’ll need:
• The username
• A death certificate
• A copy of your own ID (passport or driving license)
• A signed statement with your details and the reason for deactivation
• A link to an obituary regarding the person in question.
This needs to be sent to Twitter at their San Francisco address or faxed to them directly.
Here’s the link for deleting a Twitter account:
Stop Instagram following someones death
Instagram will also memorialize an account upon instruction, and the production of the correct documentation. You’ll need:
• Birth and death certificates for the deceased
• Proof of authority to act on their behalf
They will leave the account online, so that you can still access their updates and photos, but will disable the account to protect it from being hacked.
Here’s the link to deleting an Instagram account: https://help.instagram.com/264154560391256
Stopping LinkedIn after someone dies
You can simply close a Basic LinkedIn account by providing the company with the following information:
• Member name
• URL of their profile
• Your relationship to them
• Their email address
• The date they died
• A link to their obituary
• The name of the company they last worked at
If the user was a premium member, the account will first need to be downgraded to Basic before it can be deleted. If you have the username and password, this is easy to do from the account settings page, but will require the assistance of LinkedIn customer service if you have not got access to this information.
Here’s the direct link to LINKEDIN instructions:
How to close Pinterest after a death
Pinterest never delete inactive accounts, so if you want it protected, its crucial to get in touch with them. You will need to provide certain information in order to close the account on behalf of a deceased loved one.
Send an email to email@example.com with the following information included:
Your full name
The full name and email address of the person whose account you want to deactivate
Add a link to his/her Pinterest account
A copy of the person’s death certification, obituary, new article or another source that would prove his/her death
Add a documentation proving your and the person’s relationship
Pinterest will not completely destroy the account, but it will deactivate it, giving you peace of mind that it is not at risk of compromise.
You may have other social accounts to consider, depending on your loved one’s preferences. Most places will publish instructions for deactivating accounts on their help pages, or you can email their customer services for direct assistance.
Many such accounts are connected through either Facebook, Google+ or Microsoft, so it’s a good idea to leave those accounts until last so that you can still log in via these channels. Uncovering all the accounts that need removing can be a tough job, which is why I recommend leaving a Digital Executor in charge, who knows all the places you are registered.
Preparing for Your Own Passing
While you are at it, you may want to set up your own Password storage site and give the information to whomever you feel you can trust with the job of Digitital Executor. Here are a few Password Storage sites:
What If You Don’t Know Their Online Accounts?
Subscribe to an Online Search Service:
One way to start is to use a service specifically created to locate a person’s online avatars in social media. You can look at these inexpensive services:
Google Image Search
A Google search for the person’s name is a good start, but an image search can be faster. Instead of clicking on result after result and loading page after page, an image search puts everything you need right in front of you.
Go to images.google.com to start, and then simply search for the person’s full name. If you want to narrow down the results, add information like the city they live in, the school they go to, or some other identifying tidbit.
Next, scroll down the page looking for the person’s image. There’s a good bet you’ll come across their profile picture for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or another site. Once you find an image of them, click it and select View Page to open up the social media page.
In the cases of linked accounts, such as the person posting images from Instagram on their Twitter feed, you can follow those images back to the other account. Sometimes the person will also place links to other accounts in their social media profile, so be sure to check there.
Take A Peek
You can also turn to a people search site like PeekYou. People search sites collect publicly available information and combine it into a profile you can find if you search for a person’s name and location.
You usually have to pay if you want to get the full information, but PeekYou gives you the person’s known social media accounts for free. It also gives you the username on the account(s), and that’s important.
If You can Locate the Username
Something not many people think about is that they use the same username for every account. PeekYou lets you click on the person’s username to pull up other social accounts that have the same username. Or you can type the username manually into Google.
Note that you can usually get the username on any social media account from the web address as well.
Sure enough, if you add the person’s normally used name (e.g.JohnDoe) to the address for Twitter (https://twitter.com/JohnDoe), Instagram (https://instagram.com/JohnDoe) or Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/JohnDoe), you’ll see that person’s accounts there too.
This username hack is a good way to turn up someone’s accounts, even if the person has chosen not to include their real name. Of course, if that’s the case they’ll probably also have their privacy locked down tight, and you should, too.
How to Save a Voicemail
Voicemails are a powerful way to remember a loved one. They help us to remember the moments we might have taken for granted
Thanks to technology, there are plenty of ways to preserve a loved one’s voicemail. Here are a few options to consider:
The easiest way is to play the voicemail over speakerphone next to a recording device — such as your computer’s microphone or a tape recorder. Simply play the voicemail and record the message using the computer or tape recorder. While this is an easier method, the sound quality isn’t the best.
Use an app or computer recording software. Audacity is a free audio recording program for your phone, tablet or PC.
Use a third-party website. Sites like VMSave, Voicemails Forever, and LifeOnRecord all specialize in preserving voicemails and outgoing messages. However, some of these sites do cost a small fee.
To save all your voicemails in the future, sign up for a service such as Google Voice or YouMail. These services sync to your phone and email you an mp3 of any future voicemails you receive.
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©2019 Ross Grossman, MA, LMFT
Affinity Therapy Services