Letters to Newtown and the psychology of grieving online

Mar 11, 2013

Photos from “Letters to Newtown” on Tumblr.

In the months since the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT has been inundated with mail. Gifts and letters from around the world flooded in, filling warehouses. Memorials cropped up all over town, in front of churches and on people’s lawns, and though many of the larger memorials were taken down not long after the shooting, reminders of the December 14th shooting remain.

Ross MacDonald, “Mother Jones” contributor and Newtown resident, watched as memorials were erected and dissembled — when the town made plans to incinerate all of the letters they received to use in a permanent memorial, he decided to archive the material. What began as a project co-sponsored by blogging site Tumblr became a larger collaboration with the town library and the Smithsonian museum.  

Online grieving is not unique to large-scale tragedy. Social media has changed the way many people mourn. Dealing with loss has come to include announcements about difficult events, handling the online footprint left behind by a lost loved one, and coping with the fallout on social media.

Have you dealt with the grief process online? Do you prefer privacy while you mourn, or can the support of an online community be beneficial? Is group grief a natural impulse? Is it healthy? 


Ross MacDonald, Mother Jones contributor and creator of the Letters to Newtown project

Dr. Karen North, Director, Annenberg Program on Online Communities, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism; psychologist specializing in online communities

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