Amy Lopez died this year in a tragic car accident. But through her Facebook page, friends and family of the Florida International University student have kept her spirit alive. They continue to leave comments on her page, detailing their time together, and posting photographs that captured brief moments of her life.
Occasionally, they also leave her messages filled with sadness of loss.
Derrek Roncek, 23, a friend and classmate of Lopez, said visiting Lopez’s current Facebook profile is like visiting a gravesite and leaving her a comment is like leaving her flowers.
“There are times when I’ll see a new picture of her in my Facebook newsfeed, and for a second, I forget she’s gone,” Roncek said.
Priscilla Chavez agrees.
“It warms my heart to see others express how much they love and miss Amy,” Chavez, 23, said. “Some write stories about moments they’ve spent with Amy. She was a great friend and overall beautiful person.”
On the other hand, some might not like having people post comments on their Facebook page after they die.
The contents of your Facebook account fall under the heading of a digital asset. What happens to those things when you die may depend on the user agreement.
Increasingly, people are being urged to make their wishes regarding those digital assets known in the event of their death — and to set aside things like important passwords.
State governments are wading into the void, passing laws governing such matters.
Nobody knows whether Bryan Pata wanted his MySpace page to live on. He died young. The University of Miami football player was shot and killed six years ago in a still-unsolved crime. After the killing, his MySpace page was swamped with expressions of grief and shock from friends and strangers.
That page still exists. Every once in a while, someone will stumble on it and post a few fond words about the young man who would have been drafted into the NFL had he lived. The page has also been cluttered with the occasional party announcement, posted by whomever.
Courtney Seiter, a columnist for Social Media Club, an online community for social media professionals, said people are now more likely to share their grief online.
“So many of our normal friendship maintenance activities — like wishing someone a happy birthday or congratulating them on a new job — used to be done in person but are now done mostly over Facebook,” Seiter said. “So it just makes sense that Facebook has become the place to gather with friends when someone passes away.”
Seiter has personally experienced the deaths of two Facebook friends this year and was surprised by the amount of comfort the social network offered her.
“It makes you feel less alone in your grief to be surrounded by others who are sharing stories and photos and feeling exactly how you are, even if they’re three time zones away,” Seiter said.
Dr. Mary J. Levitt, psychologist and professor at FIU, said that the attachment to loved ones doesn’t go away after they die, and feeling that those loved ones are remembered can be comforting.
“I think what Facebook might add would be the ability to share the experience with those in our living social network and perhaps derive comfort from that,” Levitt said.
Miami resident Noemi Lopez, 23, found that comfort when she lost her sister, Julissa Cortez, to colon cancer on Valentine’s Day this year.