I found out about actor Chadwick Boseman’s death 48 minutes after his Twitter account acknowledged his passing. Like many of us, I found out online: My sister sent me the news through Facebook Messenger.
Boseman was best known for playing King T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther, the first Black solo superhero in Marvel comic book history. I still remember how I felt watching Black Panther in theaters. By the time it was over, I had decided it was one of the best Marvel movies ever made, and that’s coming from a die-hard Captain America fan. In addition to playing King T’Challa, Boseman portrayed real-life heroes Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, becoming an icon and symbol for many in the Black community.
For me and many of his other fans, it felt as if we had lost a king, and his passing sent shockwaves through social media. The loss was felt deeply by many communities and fans around the world, especially now during a global pandemic when people can’t gather together to celebrate his life. Countless people took to social media to share their grief and speak to the meaningful way Boseman lived his life. As I watched tributes and messages of remembrance online, I realized that, while these events were occurring on a global scale, the meaning behind the activities of remembrance were still the same as a local funeral.
I was touched by the response to Boseman’s passing, and I believe there are three things funeral professionals can take away from his online memorialization.
1. People want to show they care, even if it’s through a virtual format.
On Saturday, August 29, the statement announcing Boseman’s passing became the most liked post in the history of Twitter, beating a record previously held by President Barack Obama. As of writing this blog, the announcement had more than 7.6 million likes. You can think of it as 7.6 million virtual candles being lit on an obituary page.
During a time where we can’t physically gather together with friends and family, the safest way to show support is online. Giving communities a way to safely say “I’m here for you” to a grieving family is important. That can certainly happen on social media, as we saw over the weekend. But it can also take place through creative, socially distant memorialization – whether that’s through drive-thru visitations or balloons with messages in the chapel.
2. Allow a time and place to share memories online.
On Sunday, August 29, all Disney-owned TV channels simultaneously played a commercial-free viewing of Black Panther to honor Boseman’s passing. Their streaming service Disney+ also featured the movie. Following the viewing, ABC hosted Chadwick Boseman: A Tribute for a King, which included virtual interviews with some of Boseman’s friends, including several of his Marvel and Black Panther costars.
While most loved ones won’t have a global TV event celebrating their life, the idea of gathering together to share stories resonates with everyone. Live streaming the funeral service or offering a virtual visitation will help people connect with their lost loved one and the family they left behind. Sharing photos and videos can also be a powerful tool to honor someone’s life.
3. Children grieve, too.
What struck me most about the announcement of Boseman’s death were the images of children from all around the world holding their own funerals for Black Panther, whether it was with their Avengers action figures or by dressing up in their Black Panther costumes. I applaud the parents who took the time to explain to their children what happened to their favorite superhero. It couldn’t have been easy. These images are a reminder that children grieve, too. It’s important to offer aftercare resources for adults and kids and to remind families with young children why it’s important for them to attend the funeral, whether it’s in person or virtually.
Even if the loved ones in your care aren’t global super stars, I know that every funeral professional treats them as such. Watching the world mourn pop culture giants like Chadwick Boseman, Nya Rivera, Regis Philbin and Kobe Bryant has reminded us that everyone deals with grief. And that the best way to get through it is together, even if it’s virtually.