Brokenhearted Online: Religious Dimensions of a Digital Community

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“We who wander the Internet wailing have created our own culture around death, our own rituals of mourning. An angel writes our baby’s name in the sand across the world. We write poetry. We light candles together. We trade skulls and hearts and ornaments.” In the wake of her daughter’s death, a mother who goes by “Sara” on Internet fo-rums blogs these words at Glow in the Woods (www.glowinthewoods.com), an online community for parents who have lost babies to stillbirth or infant death. Sara is part of a group of bereaved mothers and fathers who turn to the Internet to find connection in the midst of the social alienation that often accompanies tragedy. Sara and other parents who visit sites like Glow in the Woods participate to discover companion-ship in emotional pain, process difficult emotions, find and make meaning in the midst of tragedy, and preserve the memory of their babies. As Sara’s words illustrate, forums like Glow in the Woods help bereaved parents reconstruct their lives in the wake of loss. Stillbirth and neonatal death often trigger immense and long-lasting grief in parents. These life-altering losses both call upon and call into question parents’ religious beliefs and practices. Thus, online communities like Glow in the Woods often become religious spaces, even though they may have been designed as non-sectarian, pluralistic, or even secular. At-tempting to illuminate the impact of stillbirth and neonatal death on parents’ religion as it is expressed online, we conducted a study of the blog entries of bereaved parents. We chose Glow in the Woods be-cause it is a hub site for such parents. It is first in its category in blog search engines. We compiled and analyzed a sample of over 250 entries that reflected religious content.


Originally published as: Bakker, Janel Kragt and Jenell Paris. “Brokenhearted Online: Religious Dimensions of a Digital Community,” Bearings IV (2014) 2:18-22.