When our loved ones pass away, we miss them. It's just how we are. From ancient times, we have found ways to honor the dead and keep their stories alive within us. They live on in our memories and in our hearts. We try and keep them near by cherishing their heirlooms, photographs, clothes and music.
No material object, though, really does the trick--things just can't replace the loving presence of those now gone. For me, at least, the next best thing to being with those I miss most is being with others who also loved them and sharing memories of the joke, the dinner, the bike ride, the office, or the time we all got snowed in.
And now (you may have seen this coming) online memorial sites offer you a way to remember your dear ones and share those memories with others, even if you can't all be together in the same place. Sites like Gates of Remembrance, Last-Memories, and Eobituary allow you to create web pages with music, photos, and writings about the dead. Some sites allow you to post memorial videos, create hardbound memorial books (so you can view them without an internet connection), or create family trees. Some have chat rooms for the recently bereaved. Some provide ways to send e-sympathy cards. Most are free, though some charge monthly fees for storing the archive you'll create.
Honestly, I don't know whether an online site could ever replace a wake, a memorial service, or a good scotch at the beach, at least for me. Death, like birth, is one of the more physical, and therefore, non-virtual, experiences I've ever shared with others. It's profound, it's mysterious, and it requires no electricity.
But for some, these online memorial sites may offer solace and a place to share precious photos, videos, audio files, and memories. Who knows? Maybe online scholars a thousand years from now will find these sites as rich in history and tradition as those dusty family bibles and scrapbooks hidden in the attics of the past. Only time will tell.