Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

logging off

When a person from the Facebook generation dies, their friends can do something that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. They can quickly visit one single page online and be reminded of the lives their loved one lived, recall the memories that they were also a part of, and remember what the deceased achieved in life. I think social media is a beautiful thing that we ought to celebrate.

When you still have access to that person’s account, like I did with Desreen’s, you also notice an outpouring of private love. People send messages they know won’t be read by the intended recipient, but that they feel they need to share. Some even try to add the person as a friend, despite knowing that they are no longer available to click ‘accept’. They simply want to find a way to feel closer to the person that has logged out of life.

Although I knew the password on Desreen’s account, I chose not to pry. I thought it might be confusing or upsetting if people noticed ‘she’ was online. Perhaps their desperate hopes that it was all a bad dream would resurface.

As a ‘close friend’ of hers on Facebook, I also saw her picture on my chat feed every day and, quite frankly, it messed with my head.

So I went online to find out what I could do about it. I knew I didn’t want to delete her account because I want our son to be able to see the person she was for himself in the future; her pictures, interactions, humour, kindness, birthday messages to friends etc. So I found a way to memorialise her account.

Put bluntly, this means three things. The friends she had when she died will be her friends for life on Facebook and will continue to have access to her page. People that were reminded of her by the news of her death or people that want to find out more about what happened won’t. It also means that people who know nothing about what happened won’t be invited to become her friend by a faceless algorithm, which suspects that they might have something in common with her.

Sadly for me it also means that I am no longer married to her on my homepage. It would appear that she will forever be wedded to me, but Facebook’s automated processes have removed my relationship status from my page much sooner than I was prepared to. Just another push towards the marital status box that I suspect no new widow or widower wants to tick.

20 comments on “logging off

  1. lynds1
    January 13, 2013

    Hey Ben, wow this must of been tough to do. Facebook or social media in general is just part of everyday life and well once a person is no longer with us is it almost like they still are in a way if they have a Facebook page. I lost a friend 3 years ago just aged 27, I still go on her page just to check in I guess knowing that there would be no updates from her. What there is though is messages from her friends and family and it is a comfort to see that she is not forgotten. Again brilliant blogging from you xxxxx

  2. Duncan Holme
    January 16, 2013

    Hi Ben, Saw you on the BBC this morning. Very courageous. How do i make contact with you outside of the blog and facebook ? Thanks, Duncan

    • lifeasawidower.com
      January 16, 2013

      If you click on my picture next to any of my posts you will find my details. And thank you

  3. Lucy
    January 16, 2013

    My God you took the words out of my mouth. Seeing my Lees name on chat messes with my head too but at the same time I cannot get rid of it for if I did it would be acknowledging he really is gone.

  4. aishaloveslife
    January 16, 2013

    You are an amazing person. Your blog will help a lot of people including me. Good luck with everything.

  5. Paul Beirne
    January 17, 2013

    Just saw you on London Tonight and I can empathise with you having gone through the same thing myself back in 2004. I’m a bit older than you (I was 47 when my wife died) but we still have lots in common. I’ve been dealing with the loss for over 9 years so if you want to get in touch email me. I live in West London and work for the Underground

  6. Andrea Brown
    January 18, 2013

    It’s crazy how technology brings people so close. A good friend of mine passed over a few years ago and it brings comfort knowing i can simply go to her profile page and look back on all of her crazy updates and recall fb conversations her and i had together!!!!

  7. diana
    January 19, 2013

    Hi Ben, It’s Diana. I meet you, your beautiful wife an amazing son in the mag with my daughter Olivia and the pug dog Louie. I was so shocked seeing you on the news and to hear the sad news. Please contact me. 07984018395 or dianapetix@gmail.com

  8. Sara Hallam
    January 20, 2013

    I was taken completely off guard by the strength of my emotional reaction to your deeply moving account of the impact of your wife’s sudden accidental death (Saturday weekend Guardian). You were so eloquent in describing your pain and difficulty and how such a tragic event/loss can be explained and made sense of to a 2 year old. Thank you for sharing it. I sincerely hope your writing about the experience helps sooth/make sense of such unexpected loss.I keenly believe the writing process helps make sense of the unbearable and by sharing, helps others connect with their painful losses. Although I don’t know you, I so hope and wish you and your son well for your future and that your wife’s impact and memory continues to burn strong in your hearts and gives your the courage to continue to embrace life.

    Can I just add I do not usually feel this stirred to communicate to a stranger and it’s the first time I have ever accessed a blog….

  9. Tanja Karlsson
    January 20, 2013

    I’m so sorry for your loss! I became a widower on February 11 last year (I’m now 37 and my kids 4 & 7) and my husband’s Facebook account is still normal. I did not know about memorializing an account! I’ve been debating with myself on what to do with the it, maybe I’ll do this. I can access the account and have done it, I’ve put him “offline” so no one can see him being “online”. But I just haven’t been able to delete it. It’s somehow so … final.

    A friend of ours died in October and her account was deleted and it felt strange, it was like she had never existed. Her comments have been deleted on my posts or pictures…

    I thought about changing my relationship status to widower… but I just can’t do that either.

    I wish you and your son lots of strength!

    Tanja from Finland

  10. Alice
    January 21, 2013

    Thank you for this.
    One of my best friends died 6 years ago, aged 27 and her Facebook page is memorialised like you say. This has been a very mixed blessing – some people have found it a lovely reminder and others an uncomfortable one but where the thought of ‘unfriending’ her to avoid the feelings was almost as bad as the feelings themselves. I struggle a little with it as I had the task at the time of tracking down her friends after she died – I had more warning as she died after an illness but still it is a complex issue.
    Also I find Facebook has a peculiar habit; it doesn’t remind me of her birthdays directly but they are listed in birthdays along with the age she would have been if she had lived – every year I see this and feel appalling for a day or two. I’d be interested to hear more about how you feel on this issue as time goes on and to know if Facebook have taken any advice about this. I’m considering giving them some as I’m training to be a counselling psychologist! I find this blog brave and I wonder if you find it therapeutic. You and your son are in my thoughts.

  11. Alice
    January 21, 2013

    Thank you for this.
    One of my best friends died 6 years ago, aged 27 and her Facebook page is memorialised like you say. This has been a very mixed blessing – some people have found it a lovely reminder and others an uncomfortable one but where the thought of ‘unfriending’ her to avoid the feelings was almost as bad as the feelings themselves. I struggle a little with it as I had the task at the time of tracking down her friends after she died – I had more warning as she died after an illness but still it is a complex issue.
    Also I find Facebook has a peculiar habit; it doesn’t remind me of her birthdays directly but they are listed in birthdays along with the age she would have been if she had lived – every year I see this and feel appalling for a day or two. I’d be interested to hear more about how you feel on this issue as time goes on and to know if Facebook have taken any advice about this. I’m considering giving them some as I’m training to be a counselling psychologist! I find this blog brave and I wonder if you find it therapeutic. You and your son are in my thoughts.

  12. crozell25
    January 22, 2013

    I pop on my wife’s facebook once in a while. If there are friend requests I usually grant them.

  13. Su
    January 23, 2013

    Dear Ben,

    Like Sara, I don’t usually contact unknown people to comment on their blog posts but, after reading your piece in The Guardian (19th January 2013), I felt the need to send you a message. (Another particularity of living in the Age of the Internet is that total strangers can reach out and tell you how sorry we are for what has happened to your family. I hope that one day this will offer you and Jackson some comfort.)

    Thank you for sharing something so personal with us; I’m sure it will be a consolation to others and I hope that writing about your loss will act as an outlet for your grief.

    I wish you and Jackson all the best.
    Su

  14. Ellie
    April 4, 2013

    Hi, I am about to do request the memorialising of my boyfriends account, he died two years ago but havnt had the heart to do it yet. I was just wondering if you might be able to answer a question for me? Do Facebook remove any content from after the person passed away? The change to timeline has occurred since he passed and I would like to chose a cover photo for him you think they would let me? I am so sorry for your loss this blog is very inspiring you are really strong.

    • lifeasawidower.com
      April 5, 2013

      Hi Elisa. Sorry to hear about your boyfriend. As far as I know Facebook doesn’t remove anything but you’ll never be able to make any changes again once you’ve done it so if you know his log in details you should make any changes now x

      • Ellie
        April 5, 2013

        Yes I thought that may be the case didnt want to ask facebook incase they did it automatically I know the log in so I will do that before. Thank you for your response!

  15. Jen
    May 8, 2013

    Hi Ben, first of all I am so very sorry for your loss. I’m sure you hear it often but my heart truly does go out to you.

    My boyfriend passed away a few months ago and up until now I have maintained his facebook profile as an active account rather than memorializing it. Part of my reasoning for doing that was lack of information about what actually happens to his page.

    Specifically, does Facebook actually leave his relationship status intact, with a link to my profile (“In a Relationship with MyNameHere”)?

    I hope you can clarify something for me that, up until now, the internet has been unable to.

    • lifeasawidower.com
      May 9, 2013

      Hi Jen,

      I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope you’re getting support from people.

      I was quite sad when I memorialised Desreen’s account because I no longer showed up as married to her on my homepage. However, I still am when you look and Facebook didn’t make me a widower by status. That’s for you to decide.

      So in short you may not show up so explicitly as a couple but they don’t simply take your relationship status away from you in my experience.

      X

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