We had a chat over dinner last night about what would happen to all of our online accounts should anything dreadful happen to us. Forgive the apparent morbidity of this post but I wanted to get my thoughts down. We wondered what would happen? Did we care? Would we simply disappear? Would we feel sad if we saw each other’s social media accounts popping up still? Would it upset us if people were writing on walls, tagging us or whatever with no control? Would we like our online friends and communities to know what had happened or be happy to simply fade away? Lots of questions… in the modern world it’s not just about funeral instructions and leaving behind the treasure map.
We decided as a family, all for one and one for all, that we would like our online affairs taken care of, controlled, managed, terminated, demise announced and such and of course the only way we could achieve that is to know each other’s passwords and user names to everything.
So we agreed that we were happy to have this common knowledge at least among the three of us (ma, son and daughter) and so we decided to each produce a document containing all of our online accounts, usernames and passwords which we would print and store in our jointly accessible family safe on top of which is a phone number and email address of a person who knows the code but doesn’t realise it. We thought of putting a copy in our cloud but we decided against it not trusting the security. We decided to include everything from Amazon to Zoopla including shopping accounts, banks, utilities and social media. We had fun (so morbid) discussing our death announcements on Facebook but in spite of the light hearted and at times flippant approach we acknowledged that it is important to have had this discussion. At first I thought I didn’t care what happened but then I thought there were things I would need someone to know and there were things that would obviously distress my children and myself God forbid anything happened to them and so it really did need consideration.
So we began right there and then to compile a list and I can tell you it’s pretty startling the amount of accounts we hold and little wonder that my house phone has been ripped from the wall and thrown into a corner because of the amount of nonsense calls I receive daily. How many things do I subscribe to? All essential to life of course.
We all started with the most important at the top and came up with a proforma design to follow from there so we didn’t miss anything:
Social media – Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, You Tube
Subscriptions – magazines, journals, professional registration bodies, work related privilege schemes
Shopping – Amazon, Ebay etc
Travel – Airmiles, Trip Advisor, hotel and travel loyalty schemes, railcard
Email – we decided to leave this until last to deal with as it might assist in managing or deleting the rest
We leave such a big footprint on the virtual world without realising it and I guess it’s prudent to think of erasing that footprint (or parts of it) when the time comes and knowing what people close to you would wish to have done with their various accounts, it’s almost as important an issue as organ donation or where you want your ashes sprinkling, which is where this subject stemmed from as we’d been discussing our thoughts on organ donation when my son declared that he was happy to leave anyone his YouTube account.
I often see the ‘RIP’ accounts made on Facebook for people who have passed away and I wonder who set them up? Was it close family who needed to offer a place for people to share their thoughts and memories like an online book of condolence to help comfort themselves in their loss or are they more often set up by people who really don’t have a ‘right’ or permission to do so? I know with deaths of youngsters that often their friends set up these accounts and I often think there should be some permission sought from the family. Just my opinion and I know people mean well.
I would hate, God forbid it happening, to see a page full of poorly spelled condolences (forgive my pedantry) from people who didn’t really know my child and this has been compounded today. I saw a parent of a child who had died comment on their own account that they had asked Facebook to close the ‘RIP’ account created as people were arguing on it, sharing inaccurate information about the death and guessing at the cause of death.
This was obviously very distressing to the family and as much as we would like to ignore that, I can imagine how at a time like that there would be a compulsion to see what was being written about your child or loved one. It’s all way too much out of my control for me, I wouldn’t like it and I don’t comment on these sites or pages, choosing rather to send a a personal message to people I don’t know so well and of course with those I do know well sending an even more personal hand written message or making a visit. I know when my father died how comforting the heart felt messages in the cards were and how lovely it was to read a tribute to him in the local paper acknowledging all he’d done for the local community and also to read some of the letters sent by people in his life who we really didn’t know but who clearly he had touched with his kindness, humour and his great big personality. I’m sure I would have had to read a FB page dedicated to his memory but not sure I would have liked everything I read there if some of these I see are anything to go by. Some trolls are spiteful and heartless and I’m sure seek these pages out for effect and by their very nature they are usually public.
I know a lot of people take huge comfort from having social media accounts of loved ones who have passed on remaining open, who see it as a way of letting out thoughts and continuing to communicate with the person who has passed. I have seen people who have clung to social media accounts of deceased loved ones posting often and commenting on other posts consistently. Yet sadly often a year or so down the line the heart breaking bitter messages start to appear to all the ‘friends’ who no longer post messages on the wall, from bereaved people who are clearly very upset to feel that the person who they will never forget is slowly fading in the memories of their friends and acquaintances and they find themselves feeling startlingly alone in their grief. This might not be the case of course, we all remember in our own way and some may have just decided they needed to move away from the social media shrine and remember privately in their own way.
I saw a page set up recently to arrange an annual memorial dinner for a young guy who passed away, the first year saw over 30 people attend and three years on there were 5 people at the dinner and the mother posted how she was closing the group because ‘fairweather friends had forgotten her child and couldn’t be bothered to attend his memorial anymore’. People protested that they remembered her child in their own way and would never forget and pointed out that they had relocated to other parts of the country, had other responsibilities and tried to assure her that they did care but I’m sure she suffered terrible heart ache over this apparent lack of regard for the anniversary of their friend’s passing and perhaps it only added to her never ending grief and sorrow. Perhaps it hurt her afresh to realise that one day there would be nobody at the table for dinner, nobody to remember.
Of course some people never had an online presence and passed before they got to grips with technology, I always say that my dad would have simply LOVED the internet, he loved information and he loved to write. He would have been in his element having all of this at his finger tips and would surely have had a blog and a Facebook account filled with pictures of his adored grandchildren but he passed before it really became a way of life. Some people use the internet to give their loved ones an ever lasting presence in an arguably more sophisticated way through blogging, memoires and sharing of their talents which the world was never able to see before and that keeping alive of the person can be a tremendous comfort and passing on of their legacy no matter how small. I guess that kind of virtual footprint is one that they never want to see erased or deleted.
I guess in some respects the closing of social media accounts, clearing out the online virtual presence in the modern technological world somehow parallels the actual physical clearing out of the real person’s belongings and is a very personal thing. Some people have to have a loved one’s belongings removed from the home as fast as possible not able to live with the day to day reminder and others can not live without the day to day reminder and never manage to clear out the belongings and for some it is a matter of time, letting things go when they feel able and ready.
Perhaps having this discussion while it’s possible and knowing what the person who owned that presence would want to happen to it is prudent and will make those decisions we would rather not have to ever make a little easier when or if the time comes. Maybe we weren’t just being morbid to think of these things but doing all we can to make life easier for those who get to carry on living it a while longer.