Yes, you too can
preserve your legacy
for posterity in a
Web Site Gravesites
by D. Trull
Its very nature as a vibrant, ever-evolving organism assures that the World Wide Web will always be thoroughly plagued with death. Servers go down, accounts get canceled, page locations shuffle. Abandoned sites drift on like rudderless ghost ships, never updated, and dead links dot the cyberscape like annoying little underlined tombstone inscriptions.
Since the Internet is so much like a graveyard to begin with, it only makes sense that we should turn it into a literal one as well. The basic idea is hardly anything new: it's fairly common for people to construct their own memorial pages honoring their late relatives and friends, or, quite often, their pets. But now, for the benefit of those bereaved who don't have access to web server space or an inclination to learn HTML, a number of sites are offering "virtual gravesites" where visitors are welcome to post point-and-click tributes to their lost loved ones.
One of these online mausoleums, a site called Virtual Memorials, has created memorials for about 250 people in its first year of existence. It is maintained by Sharon Mnich, a former travel agent in Woodstock, Georgia, who began the site with remembrances of her grandparents and a personal friend. Mnich accepts memorial requests from anyone who wishes to submit them, which come in at an average rate of about one a day, and she adds them to her site completely free of charge.
"I get tears almost every single night doing it," she said. "But the rewards are so wonderful when people e-mail back and say this is so precious to them, now they have somewhere to go and remember someone that's not a cemetery."
There are a few more virtual gravesites that offer free postings, such as The Virtual Memorial Garden, and some others that charge a nominal $10 fee, including Garden of Remembrance and Virtual Heaven. These folks should be applauded for generously devoting their time and effort to memorializing people they've never met.
But there are other digital cemeteries out there whose sympathies more plainly lie with collecting dead presidents. These memorial sites charge a considerable amount for their services, and just like the funeral business, it's a capitalist enterprise that's always assured a steady stream of potential customers. Admittedly, you generally get classier arrangements and nicer graphics here than with the freebies -- but there's usually a catch. One common tactic among pay-per-mourn sites (such as Funerals Online) is to charge an initial fee to create a memorial and post it in the primary display area for a limited time, after which there's an option to have the tribute archived elsewhere on the site, often on a year-by-year billing plan. Decide not to pay, and your eternal loving monument to Uncle Grady gets zapped into sweet oblivion.
A site called Perpetual Memorials offers a full range of remembrance packages to suit the needs of every sorrowful shopper. For fifty bucks you can purchase the lowly "Electronic Obituary" (limit 150 words, no pictures, gone in 60 days), or else you might dare to spring for the complete multimedia smorgasbord, featuring exhaustive photo albums, downloadable movie clips and personalized audio eulogy files, all for the heart-stopping price of $995.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, most of these sorts of sites are probably reputable businesses that deliver exactly what they promise. But let's face it, this is the Internet, and who the heck can you really trust? In the blink of a server shutdown, your memorial and your money could become a perpetual memory. These days a lot of funeral homes are beginning to go online with similar services, and grief-stricken web-surfers might do well to take their inquiries there (although God knows those people charge an arm and a leg for everything).
The alternative, of course, is to go back to where this whole thing started, and put up your own do-it-yourself memorial on the Web. That's the only way you'll be sure of personally doing justice to your loved one's memory. But still, there's a certain appeal to the concept of the virtual graveyard. Something about the communal comfort of a vast group of diverse individuals brought together in this single place, both the living and the dead, granted the opportunity to learn about each other's existence by shattering boundaries not only of distance but also of time and mortality... occasionally culminating in a rare, profound moment of meaningful human contact.
In other words, the exact opposite of what the Web is usually good for.
Sources: Associated Press; Yahoo!
(c) Copyright 1997 ParaScope, Inc.