Figuring out how to mourn in the age of Skype

In a thoughtful, moving essay for The Atlantic, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig wonders if religious traditions still provide an adequate road map for grieving.

She notes that most rites and prayers of mourning imagine a community of mourners, as well they might given that they have been neither written nor revised since the internet made it possible to be in close contact with those whom one never sees. These prayers make no room “for a single mourner praying alone.” And yet, she writes:

[M]ore and more people will probably have to mourn alone at some point in their lives. As of 2010, roughly 3 percent of the world’s total population lived outside their country of origin. Many migrants maintain strong and hopeful ties with their home communities, but they may not be able to return to mark a death. And then there’s the reality of global travel: More than 283,000 U.S. students studied abroad during the 2011-2012 school year, for example. Although these patterns haven’t reached all corners of the world, globalization is here to stay—especially in the United States. Even people who don’t consider themselves Christians will have to figure out new ways to navigate this rite—especially in America, even secular traditions have tended to mimic religious ones.

The people we know, in other words, don’t necessarily have any immediate geographical or cultural ties to us, which means a lot of traditionally community-based activities are being upended. Many possible solutions still seem weird: Fortunately, Skyping into a funeral is not yet socially acceptable. On the other hand, the trappings of mobility—devices that go with us everywhere, that often diminish closeness while also closing unimaginable distances—are pretty useful when it comes to mourning in modernity, whether you’re actively religious or not.

How do you mourn distant friends?

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