Peaches Geldof, the 25-year-old British model and socialite daughter of Irish singer Bob Geldof and TV star Paula Yates, died Monday at her home in England. Police called her death “unexplained and sudden”; Geldof’s family (including her father, sisters, husband and two toddler sons) was left reeling.
But through all the stories and questions, there’s the digital age aspect of Geldof’s death that adds an extra eerie layer of tragedy. The day before she died, Geldof posted a photo of herself as a baby in her mother’s arms; Yates passed away in 2000 of a drug overdose. “Me and my mum,” the caption reads.
Me and my mum http://t.co/PNxLDVm887
— Peaches Geldof (@peaches_g) April 6, 2014
It’s an especially poignant photo, and makes an already sad story even sadder. That’s the problem with social media accounts living on after someone has died: A person may be gone forever, but their last Internet presence is always there for everyone to see — a final farewell whether they like it or not. For celebrity deaths, it’s especially unsettling, as morbid curiosity sends onlookers flocking to the deceased’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
In Geldof’s case, that photo adds an especially emotional asterisk to her death. Hours after the news of Geldof’s death broke, details spilled forth about her “wild child” life and past drug use; obituaries noted Geldof’s struggle growing up in the shadow of her famous parents and extreme grief at age 11 after her mother’s death.
On the same social media token, such photos can make people feel like they know a celebrity, and make the mourning process take an even deeper turn. Geldof’s final picture is now filled with “RIP” messages left throughout the day. People were also tweeting their condolences still using her Twitter handle (“So sad to hear of
@peaches_g passing. As a new mummy I have loved seeing her progress with her babies.”), which is unsettling to see.
Even if the final social media posts aren’t so poignant, it’s still haunting to see even the banal messages left by people who pass away suddenly. “Happy Fri! Hope you all have a GREAT weekend!” reads the last tweet from comedian John Pinette, who died over the weekend at age 50. Not too far back on his timeline is a lengthy note explaining that he was taking a break from stand-up to recover from surgery, but he would be back soon.
People have always had to deal with finding notes and mementos from loved ones. Now, in the digital space — especially with prominent figures –there are constant reminders that are a click away, all day, every day.
Every story is different — but celebrities being memorialized via social media can add an uncomfortable element, especially when it remains forever untouched in the digital space. Though perhaps it sheds light on why such posts are so striking; whether it’s a family photo or a simple tweet celebrating the end of the week, sometimes these moments simply remind us of our own lives.