‘Our  grieving space’

Facebook tells the stories of our lives. Now some people are using it to deal with death.
“This has become our living room,” said Jensen Moore-Copple, an LSU assistant professor. “This has become our grieving space.”

Moore-Copple and a colleague have researched how Facebook has become a way to both mourn and remember loved ones who have died. Overall, she said the social network is a helpful avenue for the bereaved to deal with grief and to find consolation.

Moore-Copple’s research was sparked by personal loss.

Her 20-year-old cousin, Allison, died in a one-car crash on New Year’s Eve 2010 driving to stables for an early morning practice for a horse show.

Moore-Copple learned of the loss the next morning when she found an anguished posting on Allison’s Facebook page by her twin sister, who was “talking” to her sister, telling her how much she missed her and that she couldn’t believe she was gone.

There, also, was the last message Allison had posted. And all of the other messages of grief.

As the days and weeks followed, Moore-Copple saw how family and friends continued to post to Allison’s site — expressions of grief, memories of happy times and comments made directly to her.

“It hit me,” she said. “There were hundreds and hundreds of posts on Allison’s page. There’s something here; they’re coming together to mourn. What is it?”

As a way to cope, the assistant professor of strategic communication at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication said she decided to research the topic.

Now she and colleague Sara Magee of the Loyola University of Maryland have produced a research paper: “The Ghosts in the Machine: A Grounded Theory Approach to Understanding How Social Networking Sites are Used to Manage Death, Loss and Grief.” It’s under review for an academic publication.

“One of the things people said was that Facebook gave permission for people to talk about their grief,” Moore-Copple said of the findings.

One participant commented: “It’s almost like my emotion is taken out of it ... I don’t have to worry about crying in front of someone ... breaking down at kind of random people.”

Another said: “You just know that there are people who cared, many people, it helped in general to know we weren’t (grieving) alone.”

“People are storytellers ... (social networking sites) allowed people, on a global scale, to come together and share,” Moore-Copple said.

Moore-Copple was awarded a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Professorship in Health Communications grant for the research.