A memorial website is the term used to describe a collection of tribute pages hosted on special websites, set up to help remember loved ones who have died. This can simply be a one-page html webpage document to record the name of the deceased and display some words of tribute, through to an in-depth memorial site with many remembrance sections designed to commemorate and remember their life more fully.
Memorial content normally includes lots of photos displayed in a gallery or a slideshow plus selected music and videos uploaded along with contributions of messages and memories from friends and family. A common feature is the acceptance of thoughts and virtual candles, often by visitors to the memorial offering their condolences and support to the grieving family. Other memorial website features include a timeline which charts the person's life and a family tree to display their links with ancestors and descendants. There may even be a blog or journal to provide a record of emotions and feelings felt during the period of bereavement.
Memorial websites started appearing in the late 1990s but were very unusual. Those that did exist were normally websites created specifically in response to the death of an individual who was in the public eye rather than for general members of the public. In 1997, Carla Sofka recognized the increasing use of the Internet for grief expression at a time where few predicted its emergence as a new form of memorialisation, a development which took place over the following decade.
The online memorial charity MuchLoved Charitable Trust was established by Jonathan Davies after the death of his brother Philip in the 1990's whilst studying at Birmingham University and there is now an internet memorial to him. Their free memorial service offers anyone the ability to easily create an internet memorial site and it is becoming increasingly popular to do so. Members of the Facebook generation intrinsically understand the benefits of such an online memorial site, but those finding difficulty with the concept might consider that an online memorial is the most effective way of bringing together a community of grieving people who are geographically scattered.
For many who have lost loved ones, visiting a churchyard or a crematorium is not always possible. They might live too far away, might dread crying in public or find the journey too difficult. An internet memorial enables people to be able to remember and commemorate together, wherever they are and whenever they wish.
The benefits of a website memorial will reflect the many different motivations and needs of the site creators. They can be private memorial sites, or a way of sharing memories with friends and family. They can be used to memoralise a loved one to the general public or as a personal way to collect In Memoriam donations and they also appeal to the environmental movement by being the greenest memorial available.
Bereavement service manager Nikki Archer, who works at St Giles Hospice in Lichfield, believes tribute websites will become more widespread. She explains "Twenty years ago, no one put flowers on a roadside following an accident, but this is usual practice now. The way we accept people's grief is changing. We are more tolerant of accepting expressions of emotions like flowers or books of condolences. The way we used to cope with death was to try to minimize its impact with rituals. But the events like the death of the Princess of Wales show we are expressing our grief differently because society is less formal."
An online memorial is now widely accepted as an integral part of the grieving process as outlined in the stages of grief model, and the underlying basis for this is the way in which it can bring those affected by a death closer together by encouraging communication and expression. It is normally one of the tools for bereaved people to communicate with each other and to act as a bridge with others.
An additional benefit is that it can help lengthen the grieving communication process. It is very easy to all feel compelled to 'stop talking about it' once the funeral has taken place when successful grieving normally requires a much longer period of active remembering. An online memorial where friends and family can all tell their stories and express their feelings of loss to remember a loved one who will always be greatly missed can help everyone manage their grief effectively together.
There are some key areas in which an online memorial differs in principle from an obituary. An obituary normally focuses on creating a factual public record of a life whilst an online memorial reflects the grief and memories of the bereaved as much as the life and character of the deceased and so is much more of a living testimony than an historical record. They each serve their purpose but a website memorial is designed to help the next of kin in the process of grieving and to help create a beautiful, lasting tribute and record for your family and possibly future generations.