Dead Man Blogging

“Here it is. I’m dead, and this is my last post to my blog.”

I’ve been haunted since I read those words a few weeks ago.

Jenn Whinnem had hosted a discussion on {grow} about our digital footprint and the implications when we die. Johnny Russo, added a link to a post by Derek K. Miller, who wrote his farewell to his blog community and family in anticipation of his death from a terminal disease.  It is a stunning, poignant, post and it ends perfectly.  “I loved you, I loved you, I loved you.”

Since that day, Derek’s post has been pounding in my head.  When I die, should I just die, or do I publish a coda? What happens with this community? Is there such a thing as a digital legacy and is that something you can prepare for?

In 2007 I suffered an extremely serious spinal cord injury and could have died.  The doctors were surprised I could walk afterward and suspected the injury might even affect my cognitive abilities.  For months, my brain was on random play, sending unpredictable signals to my arms, legs and neck.  I never knew what sensation or pain I would be feeling next.  My nervous system was out of control and nobody could know when, or if, this would end.

I was lucky. Other than a plate in my head, the lasting effects of this trauma are minimal.

So I’m acutely aware of how fast you can lose it all. Death had a hand on me and I escaped that time.  But it is going to happen, perhaps without warning. Perhaps tomorrow.

How should I use this blog and my other “digital assets” to say goodbye to you, my friends and my family on MY terms?  What happens to {grow} and this digital footprint when I die?  Will any of you even know what happened? Does any person know how to get into my account to publish something to say, “Well, he’s gone. You can move along now.”

This is uncomfortable, but I have begun writing my farewell blog post.  A little at a time. Might take years. But I’m doing it. I am also leaving a set of instructions to my kids so they can find the “publish” button. It’s a start.

I think this makes sense … as much as an emotional issue like this can make sense.  I think it would bring closure for all of us, although from my position, it won’t really be on my mind unless I turn into a blogger spirit who can’t rest until somebody publishes the last post! The WordPress Ghost.

How things have changed.  My grandmother died exactly 10 years ago.  She was a lively, interesting woman but her stories live on only in my mind.  As far as I know, not a single video, photo, or voice recording of Grandma exists in the digital world.  In fact, if you google her name, the search returns images of Halle Berry.  This would have amused her.

All my grandmother left was a box of photo albums and her collection of Hummel figurines.  But we’re busy producing fresh masses of permanent, searchable content.  Buckets of it.  Articles. Photos.  Videos. We are the first generation who can potentially live forever through our personal published works. We can have a cyber-soul.

What is that digital life story going to look like for you?

When I started looking into this subject, I found that curating your content legacy and preparing for digital afterlife is becoming a big business. Think about it.  As the Digital Natives grow older, of course they are going to want their cyber selves to live on.  The ultimate narcissistic final act.

I found hundreds of resources out there to help you manage the digital end game, but here are just a few to give you a flavor of this emerging industry:

Several services will contact loved ones (or hated ones) with emails when you die.  They all basically work the same way. You queue up your emails and then the service sends you periodic emails to confirm you’re still alive. If you stop responding, your emails get unlocked and are distributed. This way, you can communicate your passwords, last wishes, and long-held secrets after you’re gone. One site will send your emails on dates you choose for 60 years into the future. An example of a free service is Dead Man’s Switch.

Another cottage industry is the curation of digital assets for future generations.  There is a wide variety of options, both free and paid. A site such as My Wonderful Life allows you to put together an online scrap book of everything that was important to you. This company has a great slogan: “You only get one chance to make a last impression.”

While the world of physical assets is fairly clear-cut thanks to wills and legal procedures, digital asset management is confusing. What will happen to your domains? Where’s that Adsense money going? What about your PayPal account? What about the half-finished novel backed up in Dropbox? Entrustet is an example of a company who will manage your assets as your “digital executor” when you pass away.

In the creepy category is which promotes “a database of personal reflections captured in video, image, audio and documents about yourself that can be saved, searched, downloaded and shared with friends.” This information is meant to be filtered through an “interactive avatar,” modeled on you, “that becomes more intelligent as you add more information.”

VirtualEternity also claims to convert the personal data you provide into an avatar — sort of like one of those chatbots that some online companies use for automated but more humanish customer service. “We want to give users the gift of immortality” they say. Basically this is an avatar that you teach to be you.

If you want to keep up with emerging trends in this field, you might want to check out The Digital Beyond, a comprehensive website on the subject examining practical, legal, and emotional issues of a digital legacy.

As I reviewed what I had written, I notice that this started out as a personal post about my mortality and digital legacy and it has devolved into a “how-to” post.  Probably some deep meaning there. I’ll let you junior psychologists figure it out.

Any way, Mr. Derek K. Miller has inspired me to get serious about this and I’m considering my digital afterlife and how I want my blog to end some day.

Of course you already know the last line.  “I loved you, I loved you, I loved you.”

Why mess with perfection?


All posts

  • I’ve also have been thinking about the digital footprint we will leave behind. I’d really like to clean up all the “substandard” or insignificant content and only leave my best. There has to be a business opportunity in this?

    In 2000 I created a website for my Mother; she had a great idea for building a community (even then) for people over 85. She lost her eyesight and sadly she never implemented her idea, yet in 2009  her website was still online,as the ISP had been so taken with her idea he had donated the hosting… so non payment was never an issue.   I had also set up a account for her at Amazon to order large print books and though she has not been with us for several years, her Amazon account is. I use it whenever I need to and it gives me great pleasure to think that Amazon is still profiling her……. that her digital footprint is living at Amazon, ordering books (including yours) and a variety of kitchen, pet and shop tools (when they had tool crib!)

  • I’ve thought about this often, but I have a tendency to over think too and end up being rather melancholy. It’s also something I should do when I’m not grappling with a lot of pain, as that really colours my thoughts for the worst. 

    I hadn’t considered myself narcissistic but I guess wanting to leave behind something that says, “I was here. I mattered. I made a difference” makes the label appropriate. 🙂

  • I’ve read that post. It got me then as this one did now. And I had no idea about these digital legacy rackets. I guess it’s good to know 🙂

    Should I start writing mine? I think Im too lazy for that…and that can be my legacy 🙂

    He was to lazy to write his last post, they might say one day 🙂

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Very nice story Caroline. Thank you for commenting!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I think that’s a good way to put it. “I was here.”  Maybe that’s the sentiment I was looking for : )

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Well, everyone has a brand! : )   I would hardly consider you lazy though!

  • Am I the only one who is worried about the skeletons in her closet?

    At any rate, thanks Mark. I’m glad you survived the 2007 (was that when you fell off the mountain?)

    And thanks to Johnny for sharing the story that inspired you!

  • I was very fortunate to have been in the comment section of {grow} and discovered Derek Miller’s post that day. Quite simply, the most amazing blog post I have ever read.  Since his final post was so personal, it didn’t really make me think of the all of the legal and legacy issues of digital existence, you bring up above. Great points! And I think very real concerns for people who have truly created something of value online.

  • As I explored this topic I was struck by how complicated death can be. Or not. You can just toss your blog to the digital wind. Glad you’re connecting the dots, too. Thanks for your comment!

  • Thanks for setting off the chain reaction, Jenn!

  • Would I want to write my own swan song? Yes. i probably will. Will I do it today? No. I may do it in a few years. I cheated death a few times, so i know I am “on borrowed time” as they say. I read that post, and could hardly finish reading it.

    The toughest thing I ever had to write was my Dad’s eulogy. I just stared at a blank page not knowing how to start. I would end my own last post the same way I ended his eulogy: “When you think of me, think of me well.”

  • Wow Mark, very impactful post.  Really, as you had noted, two posts in one.  And thankfully, that you did the second half of the post.  I’m not sure
    I could gotten through an entire post just on the personal. 

    I’m not sure I’m ready to write my final post, but you definitely gave me some things to think about. For example, how might I want to be remembered by my family?  What do I want to say to my friends?  What do I want to be my final communication on the web?  Big questions with lots to think about.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts – both the personal and the how to – and making us all consider this now. 

  • Love, love this. I’ve often thought of all these scenarios and many times have told my husband that if I dropped tomorrow he’d be in a lot of trouble since I’m the keeper of the passwords. We had a friend lose a church member and she called me looking for a ‘hacker’ since they couldn’t figure out how to get into any of his accounts. It’s a new issue that we’re all having to deal with. Not only are we going to have to figure it out on a personal level, but businesses all over need to a way to handle it. Can you imagine the # of death certificates we’d have to order if that is their requirement??

    Thanks for subconsciously morphing it into a ‘how to’ piece.. I’m earmarking it to go back and check some of these sites for myself.

  • You know what I think is missing in all these tools? Letters. I have a box full of letters in my mother’s beautiful handwriting. They chronicle our years together…some when she was away from me to care for her ailing mother when I was young; letters through my college and early married years; and letters reminiscing about the fun we’d had in her last visit to our house before her death. They not only testify to our deep and abiding love, but they report on all the goings on of my sisters, neighbors and friends.

    Will my children keep the text messages I send or the rare emails we exchange as a journal of our time together? No. So maybe I should start thinking of these sources to fill that gap. I don’t know. It just seems so…digital. Maybe I’ll surprise them and start writing letters.

    I love “beginning with the end in mind.” And I love the ending to your story, Mark. Who could ask for more than that as a legacy to a life well lived?

  • I’ve often wondered what would be my last tweet. 

    Thank you for sharing your feelings and research.

  • It was certainly a tough read but one of those posts you HAVE to read to keep things in perspective! Thanks Nancy.

  • I’ll probably procrastinate writing my final blog post until it’s too late. The thought occurs though, we listen to music by dead singers who are in rock and roll heaven, watch movies and TV shows starring dead actors, even listen to and watch radio preachers who have been dead in some cases for decades, such as J. Vernon McGee, (who may speak of Richard Nixon as the current President). So conceivably, you could schedule blog posts for years to come… though it might be difficult to stay current. Or, guest bloggers keep it current and the blog runs “all-time best of Mark Schaefer” posts. 

  • It’s two … two … two posts in one! I’m double mint fresh today. May I say how nice it is to see you back on the comment section Jody! You’ve been missed!

  • Great insight Kristen, thanks!

  • Gina Lynette

    Lovely, thoughful post, Mark. As usual.

    I’ve read Derek’s post and had similar thoughts around how I’d want to wrap things up online. Like you, I’ve felt the breath of death on my neck and managed to get an extension on my time here. So, I know it’s wishful thinking to believe there won’t be a final post whether I write it that way or not. There was an article in USAA magazine several years ago that spurred me to include an electronic bequest in my will along with all the other cool stuff I’ve been collecting around here. Rest assured, my facebook status updates are safe!

    But when I really got to thinking about the final post thing, I decided that — at least for now — I’d rather my legacy be a digital life well lived than get all worked up about having the perfect last word. I may draft something and put it in my pending file so that, if for no other reason, my kids will get one last e-smooch from me. But, truth be told, I’m more likely to procrastinate writing that post until I have another one of those close calls.

  • Mark, thank you for your poignant and timely “heads up resources.”  
    On and off, I’ve been wonder exactly the same as I look around and consider all of the manuscripts and paperwork accumulated over the years that family members may consider and see as clutter.
    Our lives and what happens to our digital (and non-digital) footprint is important to each one of us in our own way, as others and you have clearly addressed today…
    What a wonderful legacy to leave… the expression of love and being loved?

  • Thanks, Mark!  I have been reading but commenting has taken a back seat lately 🙁 I’m working on that one – especially those who I learn so much from, like {grow}.

  • I read both of those, and was deeply affected as well.  Prior to reading those I had thought of starting some type of on-going letter to each of my children and my husband.  Documenting our lives and achievements as we well as sharing with them my hopes, dreams and fears for them over the same period.  Something that they could have once I am gone.  To know what I was thinking all those years, show that no matter what I loved them for who they are and found them all perfect!  I hope that when I do start this, it will help them believe that even though I will be gone when they read them, they will know without a doubt that I am with them and love them everyday!

    I am not sure I will publish anything online or not yet, but maybe I will leave that option up to them and see how much they want to share.

  • Mark, I had no idea some of these sites existed, although I
    am not entirely surprised.

    I too have been thinking this over since I read Derek’s final
    blog post that was published by his family. I have been thinking about final
    blog posts and final emails to send. And then I thought about final tweets and
    Facebook status updates. What about my LinkedIn page, and all the other social playgrounds
    we have?

    Who do we ask to look this all over, and hit that publish
    button? As if our loved ones wouldn’t have to deal with enough with our
    passing, they now have to disconnect our digital legacy. Tough calls.

    As always Mark, your posts leave us endlessly thinking about
    what’s next.


  • I find it very interesting that blogging has been around long enough to where people are dying and business pop up that cater to creating a digital legacy..I thought that’s what your blog and other online adventures where for.

    I already wrote my outro…It was true back then and it’s true still… All the worlds a stage and my part was a comedy. Laugh and Love!

  • This is a wonderful and beautiful sentiment Mimi. I love this idea. We are really losing something without letters, aren’t we?  Saving text messages? Tweets?  Yuck.

  • My last tweet will probably be something stupid. But at least I’m consistent.

  • Egads.  You’re on to something there. OK, I’m off to schedule a post for the future titled, “Hi everyone! How’s the jet pack?”

  • Well said Gina. I think I would like that last word though : ) Thanks!

  • I’m old enough to know that’s true.  Basically my decision making process these days is, whch direction would increase the net total of available love?  : )  You can always get more money.

  • It’s a really hard thing to think about. And I wouls also want to do it in a way that’s drama-free. “OK — here’s the bookend.  It’s been great.”  Wonder what the impact would be on doing this now rather in a state of infirmity? I am going to work on it though. You know if one of my favorite bloggers died, I would WANT to have that final statement.  Thanks for sharing Jennifer!

  • Thanks for your important contribution here Johnny. This blog post — and its eventual impact — would not have happened without you. The power of community and having people like you around who are so generous.  We all owe you a big thanks today!

  • Awesome Brad.  See you’re a pioneer and didn’t even know it! if all the world is a stage, I guess I would be a script writer? : )

  • Don’t remember how we met Mark, only know I’m glad we did?

  • Majestic random synergy.

  • Ha, it does indeed.

  • Derek was a great podcaster ! Worth checking out his back catalogue.

    I think the idea of my own podcasts and vlogs kind of creeps me out a bit being there after I’m gone. But as soon as I stop paying my hosting they’ll wither into the ether like their creator. 

    (Glad you lived to tell the tale!!!)

  • I read that blog post a few months ago and bawled my eyes out. What a powerful, powerful thing to leave for your friends and family. This is going to sound weird, but he was lucky. He knew he was going to die soon. He had the time to write his last blog post. But what happens if you have a spinal cord injury and you don’t come back from it? Or you spill boiling pasta sauce on yourself and have to spend months or years (not days) in the burn unit? Or you get in a car accident? You don’t have time to write your last blog post. 

    Writing your last blog post, little by little, is a good idea. I don’t know how realistic it is, but I like it. I tend to add a bit of my personal life in my blog posts so I feel like people already have a part of me. But maybe it’s not enough. Food for thought for sure.

  • I’d be worried if I were you, too!

  • I’ll write it for you.

  • Anonymous

    I think Jenn’s original article and this one are two that will stay with me for a while. There’s a lot to think about here. I am so busy reading business books, working and trying to be the best I can be at my job, my digital legacy may be a very dull experience. My family tells me I repeat all my best stories WAY too many times, so I suppose I was relying on that – embedding my life’s best stories through embellishment and repetition. 

  • A friend of mine once told me about a woman he met at some group that was focused on achieving life goals. When asked what her life goal was, she had simply replied “After I die, I want to be remembered.”

    I never met this woman, but I will never forget her.

    I suppose we can achieve eternity in slivers such as this so it seems plausible that aspects of us will continue in the digital world after we die.

    It seems that dealing with loss of someone close inevitably involves a series of corrective moments where we have to learn to see the world without them. The empty armchair, the new silence, the disposal of shoes, the mental re-framing of photographs. The grief returns in these small circumstantial waves.

    I’m thinking that perpetuating one’s existence through delayed emails and other digital means, may extend this grief unnecessarily, or worse, may dull our awareness of the difference between life and death.

    You got me thinking on this one Mark.

  • Its so sad !This everything so sad!Thanks for post!

  • The first and last lines of that were perfection. I couldn’t imagine either of those being better. And, despite the subject matter, which I’ll get to in a moment, it can serve any writer well for inspiration.

    Now the subject material:

    Those types of posts are incredibly difficult to read, as you have already pointed out, not solely for the subject matter, but for the emotional impact it has on each one of us. It moves to tears. Which is a beautiful thing to accomplish through writing. Personally, I’ve bookmarked the site for whenever another night occurs when I feel as if I need that perspective or simply feel the need to cry.

    I may not have experienced the same as you have, Mark, but I feel a similar push toward writing after reading that piece. Maybe not even to deal with this subject matter, but to write that emotionally and to be able to express your own emotion. Maybe I’m stuck on the beauty of those sentiments and the writing that results and not enough on the subject matter. But I’m of the belief that beauty can be found in everything.

    And what he wrote, the way you responded to it and the way others have responded to it, is beauty.

  • Thanks for that link and insight, Jon.  If anything happened to you, I would want to know. Just sayin’

  • Gini, this is such an amazing comment and insight, on both levels. Yes, to some degree he was lucky in being able to prepare, especially with young children. But of course you have to live with that slow agony.

    I also agree with you on the little personal stories that come out in blog posts that bring us closer as a community and also as individuals. I think you are a role model at this, in fact you are sincerely my inspiration.  I would not reveal the things I do and take more risks in this area without you.  When I read your posts or watch your podcasts I think, that is beautifully done. That is brilliant. Why can;t I be more like that. You were built to blog my dear and you teach us all! 

    Thanks for taking the time our of your intensely busy schedule to share these thoughts.

  • I think you and I are cut from the same cloth in many ways. Immersed in the here and now. Dealing with business and the world in the moment. It’s hard to think about our mortality and legacy with clients pounding on the door. 

    When I look at a gravestone, I thnk it probably meant something to somebody for about 10 years. Then it is forgotten. Will our digital assets simply become a high-tech gravestone or will it mean something more some day? Who knows where the world will go and where technology will take us? 

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comment Billy.

  • Well, crap. Now we’re going to have to widen the doors at work so I can get my head through. Thank you, Mark!

  • You are a brilliant man. I love your writing and your thinking Michael. Your comments are close to poetry.  I’m humbled by these sentiments. Beautifully done.

  • Isn’t that the mark of a profound peice of writing? Movingt somebody else to think, to write to feel?  What an aspiration.

    I particularly like the fact that the piece is not melodramatic. It was very grounded and almost matter-of-fact.  He did not have to work for the emotion that was elicited.

    Thanks for your fantastic comment. I think you are relative new here? Welcome!

  • No, no, let me. : )

  • I asked first!

  • I knowwww Mimi! I’d forgotten about those. I think when my daughter goes off to college I’ll write her letters. Thank you for that reminder. And Mark  – We love you, we love you we love you! I hope your kids never have to hit that publish button. Big hug!

  • The digital footprint is a real issue, what becomes of an important personality’s digital footprint, does it make part of their testament, so someone can keep track of it like the family of Salvador Dali or Charlie Chaplin did?

    Last week a celebrity died. Ryan Dunn from Jackass died on a car crash, he posted a picture of himself and some friends drinking ust minutes before the accident. That tweet is now gone. Who managed that and will take care of the account? Who will take care of the digital footprint we will leave behind when we will die?

  • That most certainly is the mark of a profound piece of writing. One could only hope to have that kind of effect as a writer.

    It’s so easy to fall into being melodramatic with such a piece and I’m very glad he didn’t. It added to its power and poignancy. I’m a huge fan of simplicity that can elicit the profound (which is why, in my last comment, I was taken with your motto).

    I am new. Completely so. I’ve really only just started making my way fully into the internet (being active, engaging in discussion, etc.). Thank you for responding to this and my last comment, by the way, and for the welcoming.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Keen insight Luis. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts today. Well done!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Awesome. As you can see we have some brilliant minds hanging around the {grow} salon.   Gla to have you aboard!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Dammit you’re going to make me cry.  If I did such a thing. Which i don;t of course because I have to maintain my reputation as a Viking-like blogger,

  • Anonymous

    May we all be so blessed as to have a “digital life well lived,” as Gina Lynette eloquently mentioned.

    I’m wondering something crazy – is it possible to automatically set up to donate some post-death remainder of one’s online service contract to a charity, for folks who don’t have the money for regular internet access? Mark, not sure if you ran across anything like that, but it would be nice to give back in a digital way.

    As for writing my swan song, I sort of prefer the John Keats approach, and not do anything special other than to note, “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.”

  • I have thought of this too, but did not think about putting it into words. I guess its one of those topics we think about, but don’t often communicate. I liked the idea of a service, but what if your in a coma for a while. Those emails arbitrarily go out and everyone thinks you’re dead before you really expire. That wouldn’t be good. Great topic as always Mark.

  • I have read the post you’re talking about and it was one of the most haunting thing I have ever read. It’s like listening to someone talk to you from beyond the grave. Chilling for sure.

  • Thank you for sharing to us Derek’s last post, Mark. It is simple yet profound. Although I’d like to think that when I die, I’d be going to the same field of flowers and butterflies that my sister said she was going to a day before she died as opposed to no longer existing, Derek’s words touched me to the core. 

    My family and I had our share of early deaths. My brother Jet died when he was 13 due to aneurysm. It was very sudden, there were no warnings. My sister Donna died of leukemia in May 2008, 11 months after she was diagnosed of it in June 2007. Although we were not happy over my sister’s death, the time that we had to prepare for its eventuality made a difference. 

    I’d like to go that way as well. Like Derek, I would like to have a last post, a last poem, a last book. So, like you, I’m starting now. 

    I cannot thank you enough for this, Mark.

  • I know I did see one service where you could direct money from online income to various places. Paypal income for example.

  • Interesting angle, Alvin.  A good point!

  • Yeah, I had the same experience.  Couldn’t shake it.  Had to write this post!

  • Very profound Kim.  I’m so glad this had an impact on you.  A very beautiful comment. Thank you!

  • It’s my pleasure, Mark. I am learning much from you. 🙂

  • Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

  • Anonymous

    I have used Your Tribute to create memorials for a few family members. Their memorials remain online for life (however long that may be). It’s worth checking out.

  • Wow Mark you have me thinking, not many can do that! but yes this whole paradigm shift in communications has taken a lot from my grandkids….what I can leave them is what is past down from Thanks

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