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A Place to Grieve: Online Social Networks as Resources for Coping with the Loss of a Child

Conference contribution
Authors Ylva Hård af Segerstad
Dick Kasperowski
Published in The First International Death Online Research Symposium, April 9th-10th, 2014, University of Durham, UK
Publication year 2014
Published at The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS)
Department of Applied Information Technology (GU)
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Language en
Keywords parental grief, social media, coping, community, digital methods
Subject categories Other Humanities not elsewhere specified, Human Aspects of ICT


The death of a child is said to be the most disruptive of all possible losses individuals may experience in life (Schwab, 1990). Parental grief has been recognized as the most intense and overwhelming of all forms of grief (Freud,1917; Mitchell et al., 2012; Parkes, 1988; Rando, 1985, 1986; Rees 1997). Research has indicated that bereaved parents’ grief process is unique and may be life-long (Klass et al., 1996; Sormanti & August 1997). Theoretical perspectives on parental grief have undergone a paradigm shift over the last century (Davies, 2004). Traditional understandings advocated breaking bonds with the deceased child as a means of resolving grief, pathologizing what new understandings recognize as important in coping with the loss of a child, i.e. to continue bonds and holding-on. The latter often counteracts with social norms and expectations by society. The death of a child is an extremely uncomfortable subject in most western societies and often avoided in conversation. This avoidance limits the exploration of experiences and possibilities for coping with grief that might be shared in a culture (Brotherson & Soderquist, 2002). Consequently, there are not many places or situations where grieving parents may talk about their dead children, their experiences and feelings in trying to cope with their loss. With the introduction of social media this has changed. This paper presents results from a unique empirical study of bereaved parents’ use of a closed peer support group on Facebook. The study is based on a questionnaire, interviews and content from the closed group, to which the research team has insider access. Moreover, the community in the closed group encompasses a diversity of experiences and stages of grief independent of time since the loss of a child. Bereavement of children of all ages and from all conceivable causes of death are distributed among the members, who also represent a high variety of demographic backgrounds. Furthermore, the community under study is large enough to allow for both quantitative and qualitative studies (732 members and counting). Results show that the technological affordances of online social networks offer means for bereaved parents to continue bonds with their deceased children and may act as vital resources for coping with grief in ways that has not been available previously. Closed communities online offer a move from individual pathologized holding-on to emerging social norms for holding-on, supporting the particular and life-long needs of grieving parents in unprecedented ways.

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