What a great loss to humanity - breaks my heart.
Creative Commons License photo credit: !efatima

My mind is in a certain place today.

Communities are about people and people, unlike databases and forum posts, have a finite existence on Earth.

One of the hardest things we will deal with in our life is death. When a person dies, their death impacts everyone who cared for them, from family and close friends to admirers. So, it makes sense that one of the toughest things that a community manager will deal with is the death of a beloved member of your community.

It can be difficult to decide what to do when someone dies. We search for guidance and we ask for help. I suspect that, one day, a community manager looking for advice on this topic may run across this article. Who knows, it may even be me.

My advice is to do what comes natural and what comes natural to your community. How people share joy and knowledge is the same way that they share sadness. Threads, or a thread, will be started. People will share memories. They will laugh and they will cry. This is good and natural and should be encouraged.

If you are moved to do more, if there is an extenuating circumstance where you can do more, where you can send a collection of well wishes to the family or gather donations to help someone’s family get through a difficult time, do so. You will never look back and say “I wish we hadn’t done that.” But, if you don’t do it, you will always have the chance to look back and say “I wish I did.”

Whatever you do, try not to inhibit yourself. The thought that “if I do this for one person, I will have to do it for all” is a natural one that may enter your mind when you are considering how your community can pay its respects. Disregard it and do what you feel. If it helps, ask your staff and/or your members what an appropriate way of paying tribute would be. Perhaps do so privately and discreetly.

Your community will live on, but it’s past should never be forsaken. I am a big believer in preserving the past of your community and the contributions of someone who has passed away should be treated with the utmost care and respect. They were a part of your community and your members lives and those contributions should be cherished.

I wonder what I would do if the family of a member who had passed asked me to remove their contributions. I hope to never be faced by that situation because while it is easy say that it is against policy when some banned member wants to damage your community, it is much harder when someone’s world has been altered and they are looking for peace.

I might try to explain how much the person meant to the community and ask them to reconsider. But, I would not forcefully do so and, in the end, even though it would pain me, my gut instinct would be to honor their wishes however I could.

Because, at the end of the day, caring about someone means showing compassion for the people they cared about.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.