Tim died aged 29. But his mother keeps him alive on the web, and they are not alone

Helen Spedding is grieving. But she has found a new way to keep alive the memory of her son Tim, killed by liver cancer aged only 29: she is among a growing number of people who are mourning on internet memorial sites.

"I want everybody to know he was here," said Helen. "I wanted to leave a mark that he'd actually existed and show what a great guy he was and how much I loved him."

Her profile includes the heart-rending words "I am so proud to say I'm your Mum - so proud of you and your life - and every day I miss you more with every second that passes."

Helen, 55 and from Nailsea, Avon, is among the first to have created a tribute page on a new website, www.missyou.org.uk, being launched next week. The virtual world is increasingly helping bereaved families to cope, online memorials replacing the traditional newspaper obituary.

Developed by Weston Hospicecare through Help the Hospices charity, www.missyou.org.uk is Britain's first memorial website created by bereavement specialists, following the lead of hundreds of similar websites springing up. Helen sees the web as providing a place to celebrate the life her son led. "It doesn't matter where I am or what I am doing, I can always go online and think about Tim. It is a private place where me and Timmy can talk to each other.

"It is sad to keep the memory alive and it hurts, but it is ultimately comforting to go there even if it makes you sad sometimes. It is like having a living, breathing, family heirloom."

The family of Michael Hutchence, the former lead singer of INXS, helped pioneer online mourning. Their site was opened by his father, who has since died, and is now maintained by his sisters as a memorial. The site is being archived by the Australian library as a national treasure.

Dr Ann Dent, chair of the National Bereavement Research Forum, said: "We used to believe letting go of somebody who died was healthy, but the importance of continuing bonds is all about remembering that somebody lived and keeping that memory alive."

Dr Dent says the internet has changed the way in which the dead are remembered. "There is more openness now, especially with younger people. The missyou website has a therapeutic value and gives people the chance to express themselves in whatever way they want."

Karen Murphy, chaplain at Weston Hospicecare and among those behind missyou.org.uk said: "It is indicative of a trend in a different way of mourning and bereavement. Princess Diana's death was the beginning of an awareness of the emotional outpouring that people need to express. We want to give people an opportunity that hasn't been there to say what they feel in a safe environment where it doesn't matter what others think."

But there will always be a place for the physical memorial stone, says Tim Morris, of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management. "The traditional place for memories is in the cemetery and crematorium. I do not think we will see thousands of unmarked graves with memories floating around the internet."