We are excited to announce that Dr. Candi Cann, assistant professor in the BIC, has a new book published through University Press of Kentucky. Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century is an exploration of death and remembrance and how grieving in today’s culture is increasingly becoming a virtual experience. We recently interviewed Dr. Cann to learn more about her new book and to discover where she sees her research going in the future.
How did you become interested in the topic of memorialization and bereavement?
I first became interested in this subject because of our deep universal need to create narrative constructions out of lives after death. My doctoral work centered on martyrs and examined how martyrs are manufactured in an intentional way to give meaning to death and also as a confirmation of political agendas—of the church or the state. As I wrote on this subject, I also began to notice emerging bereavement practices creating a movement of Do-It-Yourself memorialization, such as tattoos, car decals, and Internet websites.
Why do you think these new bereavement practices are emerging in our current culture?
My book essentially contends that these contemporary mourning practices have emerged because of a number of reasons. First, we are no longer comfortable with death or dead bodies. Death no longer occurs in homes, but mostly in hospitals, and when people die, they are quickly cremated or embalmed. So we never really confront the reality of death. Second, grief, itself, is taboo, and people are not given enough time to grieve. In addition, the DSM 5 classifies grief as mental depression if it lasts longer than two weeks. That means that people who are rightfully mourning the death of a child have nowhere to talk about their grief, are not allowed the time off from work to mourn, and then are classified as mentally ill when they are actually going through a pretty traumatic experience. This can make bereavement a really difficult experience, and this is why I see this trend of DIY memorials emerging. People get tattoos, car decals, and form grieving sites online because they really have nowhere else to conduct the process of mourning.
Does your work offer any suggestions for how we might grieve in more healthy ways? Continue reading