Mourning Loved Ones Millennial Style

Of late, Telluride has had a lot of celebrate (our first Olympian, Gus Kenworthy, the end of a successful ski and cultural season). But the region has also had to shed a few tears following the recent and untimely deaths of our friends Eliot Muckerman and Mark Buchsieb. Saying good-bye is generally an up close and personal thing: witness the community gathering this past Saturday to celebrate Eliot’s all-too-short life. But that tradition may be going the way of the Dodo, at least for Millennials, as described in a recent New York Times article by Hannah Seligson.

Gabrielle Birkner, left, and Rebecca Soffer, who started Modern Loss, a website geared to people around their age to address the many permutations of loss, from miscarriages to a parent’s death. Credit Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Gabrielle Birkner, left, and Rebecca Soffer, who started Modern Loss, a website geared to people around their age to address the many permutations of loss, from miscarriages to a parent’s death. Credit Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

In 2010, when Rebecca Soffer’s father died of a heart attack on a cruise to the Bahamas, the condolence notes came pouring in, many in the form of text messages. “I got so many from very good friends,” Ms. Soffer, 37, said from the couch of her Upper West Side apartment not long ago. “They said they were ‘sorry’ or ‘how r u?’ ”

Text message was also the preferred medium of a 20-something who asked a funeral home in Los Angeles to text him a picture of his mother’s corpse to help him avoid having to go in and identify the body. Caitlin Doughty, 29, a director at the funeral home at the time, said in a phone interview that she initially thought, “No, I’m not going to send you a text of your mother’s corpse, but as someone who believes in interacting with the reality of death as intentionally as possible, I thought a text was better than nothing.”

Ms. Doughty is an undertaker and the founder of The Order of the Good Death, a website about mortality. The funeral home, which had never before received such a request, asked the son to sign a form saying he understood the emotional distress that might result from the photo before sending it.

The social norms for loss and the Internet are clearly still evolving. But Gen Y-ers and millennials have begun projecting their own sensibilities onto rituals and discussions surrounding death. As befits the first generation of digital natives, they are starting blogs, YouTube series and Instagram feeds about grief, loss and even the macabre, bringing the conversation about bereavement and the deceased into a very public forum, sometimes with jarring results…

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