Online--or Alone--in Grief?

A story in today's paper about Connecticut tobacco farmers got me to thinking about my Connecticut ancestors. My great-great-great-grandfather, Jared Stoddard Isbell, was a tobacco farmer in Woodbury, where I live now. In the 1860s, he kept daily journals that together draw a picture of long days of hard work together in the fields, of cooperation among neighbors that was as much a part of getting by as eating and sleeping. There are entries about helping to harvest hay and apple crops, grind meat, make sausages, cut firewood, mend fences. There are entries about visits to sick neighbors. Jared's wife Polly was often away tending to the sick.

I have often thought this kind of caring atrophied into the funeral meal. It seems sometimes the only reasonable excuse to break from the routine of work and study is to note someone's passing by baking a cake and preparing a meal to share after the funeral and to keep the bereaved fed those first hard days after a death. Following the funeral of a friend a few years ago, his parents' kitchen was full of bustling women working the oven, washing dishes, laying out the food other mourners brought to the house, hugging, kissing, and reminiscing. In love, we sought to help heal the pain of this friend's parents. In its way, it was a beautiful time after a horrible event, and it was a tribute to the love my friend had brought into the lives of each of us. Everyone filled the house with a love that was palpable.

I may have to modify my thoughts about the funeral meal because it seems now that the funeral gathering has given way to a cyber mourning. Here's an example. The obituary of a friend's father this summer advised that the funeral would be private but that mourners could sign an online condolences book. Wishing to convey my sympathy, I went to the book, which included text advising me that entries would be moderated by the funeral director. A stranger who specializes in dressing cadavers or preparing them for incineration would censor my thoughts before the bereaved saw them. I found I had nothing to say at that point. It was too obnoxious for words.

I could say it all worked out for me: I didn't have to search my closet for appropriate funeral attire, I didn't have to bake or cook, I didn't have to burn through gasoline while driving around looking for the funeral home, I didn't have to feel strange among people I didn't know, I didn't have to sit in a crowded funeral parlor and endure a tedious oration....I saved time and money. Thirty seconds was all this cost me--the time it took to type, "You are in our prayers. Love, Sandy, Ed, and Adella," and I was off the hook.

But it seems to me that being on the hook is what being a friend is about. What's more rewarding than going out of your way for the people you care about? I can't think of anything. The contrast between experiences is very dramatic. On the one hand, loved ones open the door and embrace you for your love; on the other, they encourage you to stay away.


  1. Wow, this is so very sad. I haven't heard about this practice...yet.

    Great thinking post.

  2. Anonymous7:48 PM

    They usually do this for famous people. I forget the Web site, but it's the same group that always opens a public guest book for the masses. Haven't had the heart to go there for anyone. It's sort of akin to 9-11 wall, flowers for Princess Diana and the roadside memorials erected on the site of an accident.

  3. you have a nice post here, an article like this one should be read by most bloggers out there.

    i'll add you up if your don't mind.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Rems.


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