On the eve of Autumn, after I returned home from a morning stroll, I learned of the death of my granddad in Ghana. Months before, I’d learned of the death of my grandma in Nigeria on a similar morning. Both were conscious of their mortality; injured by illness and old age, they regularly whispered of their wish to rest eternally. Upon their deaths, I was tasked with the ritual of learning to grieve online.
Minutes after the deaths of my grandparents were confirmed, relatives on WhatsApp quickly began the due diligence of digital grieving – changing their display pictures and statuses in memoriam. What were once pictures of parents, aunties and uncles quickly transformed into duplicate circles of my maternal grandma and paternal granddad staring back at me from beyond the (not yet dug) grave. In moments, I’d gone from receiving messages from loved ones to receiving phantom messages, in record number, from the two Luddite grandparents I’d just lost.
Covid-19 flying restrictions meant I was unable to attend both my grandma’s and granddad’s funerals; still, despite keeping the death of my grandparents to myself, I remained privy to the scrutiny that comes with posting about a loved one’s death online. Entitlement as to the manner of death of public figures like Chadwick Boseman, who kept his prognosis private, the posthumous biopic releases of artists like Amy Winehouse without the permission of family and the ethics of using a deep-fake Anthony Bourdain voice all complicated my feelings on digital legacies post-mortem.