Submitted by Nigel, aka SubDirectory (3), 17 March 2017
One of the inevitable aspects of running a club, or a site like BLUF, is that sooner or later one or more of your members will pass away. Over the years I've been running the club, we've had this happen numerous times, and we now have a fairly structured way of handling the situation. So, I thought I'd outline the procedure for members and other groups who may be wondering about the best way to proceed.
In the first instance, one of the potential issues is notification. There have been some BLUF members who have died in accidents that have been well publicised, but that's generally not the case. Instead, notification comes by word of mouth, or email, from someone else. When that happens, ultimately I have to make a judgement, based on the source of the information, and whether or not it can be verified - the last thing I want to do is to announce the death of a member, when that hasn't actually happened.
For many, we may never know; someone might simply never log in, and their profile will be automatically deleted after a little over a year. However, assuming we are informed, and with enough certainty, the first thing that happens is that the status of the profile is specially flagged.
This means that anyone visiting the profile on the website will see an information banner at the top of the page, saying
We are sorry to announce that we were informed of the death of this member on 15 September 2016
in whatever language they use the site. On our Android app, the message We are sorry to announce this member has died appears at the top of the profile. The Desktop app does not yet display a message. We've refined the wording of this message a few times; some people felt earlier versions were a little insensitive.
In addition, the button to send messages to the member is removed, and trying to send a message via any of our apps will return an explanatory error message. This ensures that messages aren't just vanishing into a void, and that if, for example, the partner of a member were to access their account, they won't be deluged with messages that may not be appropriate.
We also post a short news item on the site. Typically this is just one or two lines, announcing the news, with a link to the profile. In some cases, it may reference the circumstances, or the member's status in the community, for example, if they founded a club, or ran a bar. The news will appear on the Today screen - which is the first page most members seen when they sign in to the site - as well as the News page, and feature in the following Monday's weekly email. We'll typically leave the news item visible for around two weeks.
For some members, we will also publish a memoir or obituary in the site magazine. Where someone is a well known member of the community, we always try to do this. For other members, it really depends on whether or not someone wants to submit something.
When we publish an obituary like this on the site, we automatically copy the profile photos so that they appear alongside it. On the previous version of the site, we would include the original profile text; when we first did this, it quickly became apparent that it's not always appropriate. A member profile might, for example, focus largely on someone's sexual desires, and that's not necessarily what you want to read right after their eulogy. So, we hid the profile text by default, and had a button that could be clicked to read it, labelled "In his own words."
On the current version of the site, we simply hide the profile text automatically; we may revise this later, depending on feedback.
Not everyone, of course, will see the announcement in the news pages within the two weeks its there. So, our usual practise is that the profile remains online, with the information banner displayed, for around six months.
At the end of that period, the profile will be deleted, and the member number becomes available for re-use a year after that (normally, a number is available after 60 days).
In some cases, people have suggested a BLUF collection in memory of a member. The policy on that is that we don't do it. There are two main reasons. Firstly, we generally have no idea whether or not a member is out about their liking for leather to their family. Sending a card from 'Your friends at BLUF' to people who know nothing about that side of someone's life may cause additional distress to them, at a time when they need it least. Secondly, unless someone is prepared to organise a collection every time a member passes away, only some members will be commemorated that way, and not others, a situation about which I feel uncomfortable. If, individually, people want to do something, that is up to them - but for BLUF itself to do so, I think we need to be as even handed as we can.
None of the above is absolutely fixed. In particular, if a member passes away and their partner or close friends are on BLUF, then we will be guided by them when it comes to what happens. Sometimes, someone may simply want a profile to be quietly removed with no announcement. Or they may wish us to include details of funerals or memorials in the news. They might prefer that a profile remains online for longer than six months. Generally, we'll do everything we can to accommodate those wishes.
I hope that this blog has given a little insight into how and why we do things at BLUF, and perhaps some ideas for other groups about the best way to handle such a sensitive matter.