Why creating a digital shrine for my Dad helped me with my grief.
Sandy Weatherburn, Social Embers
My Dad died on the 8th May 2020. He was 85 and lived a full and happy life. He died in hospital during the Coronavirus pandemic, meaning that visiting him in hospital was restricted. A small funeral was held for him at the local crematorium, with 9 mourners attending a brief 20 minute service, which was the maximum time that was permitted, meaning that no one except close family could be there. The service was live streamed so a few who were organised enough were able to attend virtually.
In many cultures and religions a shrine is created for a dead person. The Cambridge dictionary defines a shrine as either a place of worship or a place that is honoured because of its connection with a famous person or event. My Dad wasn’t famous, but he was well known in the town that he lived.
I created a digital shrine, a tribute memorial website for him. I offered his friends and family a place to visit and honour him. This virtual space allowed for others to connect with one another in his memory. When I began the website, I had no idea how important it would become in processing my grief. I spent many hours looking at pictures of my Dad from throughout his life and not just the more recent ones of him being old and infirm. I saw him as a young man, a happy man and I was reminded of his full life and all that he had achieved. This process did not overwhelm me, it helped me accept his death. I imagine creating a similar digital shrine for someone who has died unexpectedly or at a younger age would have been more difficult, but the process was cathartic and gave me an insight into my Dad as a whole person. Looking at pictures of him that were taken before I was born, helped me see him as an individual, not just as my father. The digital space that I have created offers me a place to return, whenever I need to. It is a space that others can visit too, to remember, to mourn and to honour my Dad.
My interest in technology and death began in 2012 when a close relative died suddenly. What was to become of her digital footprint took me on a journey of my own, and led me to attend the Digital Legacy Conference in 2016. I have since completed a MA course in Death Religion and Culture with Winchester University
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