by Magdalen O’Reilly
Ever wonder what happens to you after you die? If you’ve been on the internet lately, you may not like the answer. A website called MyDeathSpace.com is making dying today a whole lot more public. The site is basically an archive of the dead, from celebrities like the recently deceased Whitney Huston to the everyday deaths of people around the world. It functions like an obituary archive, with the difference that just about anyone can up and write about those who have passed. It also helps communicate the death of a person to the host of social networks that one may leave unmanned after death. In this era when so many people keep in contact solely over social networking, many may not even know you’re dead until they get an email.
Some have hailed the website as being a great way to collectively mourn the loss of those we love. Others have complained that the site is morbid and disrespectful. The articles written include a woman who died of ovarian cancer 90 minutes before her wedding. Another concerns a six year old boy who was tragically killed by a wood chipper. And, of course, that obituary is flooded with comments–yes, you can comment on the obituaries–about how awful the parents are, and how they should be ashamed of themselves.
I came across this when I googled a departed friend, Michele Tresler-Ulriksen. Michele was a Corvallis local who had written Reform at Victory, the heart wrenching true story of her time at an abusive fundamentalist Christian reform camp. The camp was closed in 1992 after the death of Carrie Dunn. Michele became an advocate for the rights of abuse victims, encouraging others to speak out against these kinds of camps, some of which are still open today. But the reporting of her death is not the uncomfortable part. That comes with the unnecessary detail the article goes into to explain her death. The author, who claims to be a former coworker from KOAC radio station, explains that Michele committed suicide, and the prescription medication she used to do it. They then describe exactly what she had posted to Facebook directly before she had died, who found her, and how long it took them to find her. The article also reveals the name of Michele’s minor daughter–all this, only days after her death last April.
The entire website stinks of manipulation and attention seeking. While some of the articles are from genuinely despondent parents wanting to immortalize their children, others seem to be from mere acquaintances or even strangers. This gives entire articles an air of, “Isn’t is so sad that I lost this friend? You should feel so bad for me (me, me, ME!)”. The fact that this website even exists says some very interesting things about our culture. We live our lives so publicly online that now nothing is private…not even our deaths. The personal details of your demise may just be interesting enough to make the top stories! What’s worse is that we are so desensitized, so cut off from our empathy for one another by distance or our computer screens, that many see no problem divulging this kind of personal information to complete strangers. It’s an uncomfortable thought to think the end of my life may end up merely a juicy piece of gossip for someone to post online.