Grieving families turn to online memorials during pandemic

Grieving families hit by the Covid-19 pandemic are increasingly turning to online memorials to honour their loved ones, but they avoid references to coronavirus and death in their tributes, new research has found.

Dr Mark McGlashan, Senior Lecturer in English Language at Birmingham City University, has been examining the use of language in online memorial boards created to pay tribute to those who have died during the pandemic.

His research finds that online memorials aid the grieving process by giving people space to reframe and reaffirm the lives of the deceased rather than focusing on the conditions of their death.

With restrictions on traditional funerals in place there has been an upsurge in online memorials as people bid to honour those who have passed away and publicly celebrate their lives while respecting guidelines.

Findings from the project were shared as the UK marked one year since the first national lockdown on 23rd March.

Dr McGlashan’s research examined 5,026 public online memorials published on the Remember Me memorial website to uncover how people have been commemorating their friends and family amidst the pandemic. This is believed to be the largest collection of bereavement discourse texts ever compiled for academic study.

The study revealed that grievers avoided directly referencing coronavirus or Covid-19 in their messages, avoided negative words and used metaphors that reframed or sanitised death during the grieving process. Rather, memorials focused on reaffirming life, love, and important family relationships of the deceased.

Dr Mark McGlashan, said: “Bereavement is a deeply complex emotion, especially during a pandemic in which many of us have been unable to say goodbye to our loved ones or grieve with our families.

“Online memorials like Remember Me offer the potential to grieve with others but also to understand how we might go about grieving collectively. My analysis finds that bereavement texts highlight what people believe is most important about life: love.”

The study was conducted at a time when the UK had reported 41,969 Covid-19 deaths, and the memorials covered represented nearly 12 per cent of all reported deaths.