Grief in the Facebook age

One of the best friends I’ll ever have died two weeks ago. Just died.

She had been diagnosed with a serious condition about ten days before, one that would require medication and some lifestyle changes, but it would be manageable. Her death was shocking and hard to wrap my head around.

It still is.

I was unprepared, as were all her family and friends, but I was equally unprepared for this loss to be shared so widely on Facebook. Although we were among the family and friends her husband called, it took only a few more hours for her passing to appear in a Facebook feed (as had her illness earlier).

Of course, social media being what it is, and Facebook being Facebook, many people began expressing their condolences electronically and the family graciously responded. I’m sure they greatly appreciated the emotional support.

I don’t know how I feel about this.

Death is personal and private. I don’t use the same terms to describe Facebook.

Is it good that social media makes it so easy to quickly send a few lines of condolences or do our friends and family deserve something more personal? At least of course with Facebook, the comfort and condolences and even memories are shared. (That may not always be the case with well-intentioned cards and notes.) But it still seems just a little weird to me. I pretty much think of Facebook as the happy place where we post pictures of a new baby, a new graduate, a vacation. And if we have to post something more serious here, is there a way to whisper? Do these people follow up in a more personal way?

In my book, the friend who held my hand after cancer surgery and helped me empty my mother’s apartment after she died deserves more than electronic condolences. There should be hand-written notes recalling her larger-than-life personality, her sense of humor, even her preoccupation with air conditioning and avoiding frizzy hair (I think the two are related.) This is the friend who always, always used cloth napkins and with whom I shared the traveling wine glasses. She loved her iPhone, but it never replaced a hand-written note.

I suppose I should admit to a few disclaimers here. I’m sure many who responded electronically, also did so more traditionally. I’m certainly not accusing anyone of a major breach of etiquette. In fact, I’m blogging about this. 

Is this a generational thing? I think not. Even my daughter, who manages social media for a living, was uncomfortable with the way this worked. (My friend would have thought it just fine. I’m the one with the problem here.)

The real issue is that Facebook, texts, tweets, etc., are the only way some people are now communicating. Is that modern or a just an easy shortcut? Are they hiding? Writing a note, calling on the phone, or (Mercy!) showing up at the door with a cake or a casserole may seem old-fashioned, but is it more thoughtful?

Life is so much better when we reach out, live in the moment, actually shake hands. (And lately I’m all about living in the moment.)

I’m anxious to hear what you think of this. Some people agree with me that it’s awfully impersonal; others concede that it’s efficient in our modern world. Am I just being an old lady? Is Facebook okay for news like this or do we need a more personal approach?

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8 thoughts on “Grief in the Facebook age

  1. This was so beautiful said – all of it. My opinion is that since our friend now lived about a thousand miles away, this was probably a more efficient way for the family to notify all of her network of friends and acquaintances. I do agree that it does not replace more personal contact with the family from our end.

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    1. I would hanve to agree that FB is certainly an efficient way to reach people. And frankly, I’m not sure how my shock at the news plays into this. I’m glad I did not just see it first online.

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  2. I am so sorry for your loss. What a shock it must have been.
    I have mixed feelings about Facebook as a means by which to share bad news. As Nancy said, when friends are scattered all over the map, sometimes posting on FB is an expeditious way to pass along news. But, what if the news is spread before the family wants it to be? Or before all close family and friends have been notified. Several years ago, the husband of my dear friend was in Hospice. Someone posted on FB that he had passed away but he had not yet. The family found out and posted a correction, handling it beautifully and graciously, but can you imagine how painful that must have been?
    On the other hand, perhaps after letting some time pass, I absolutely see the benefit of FB as a place where friends and family can share stories and tributes to the person who has passed. When my friend’s husband eventually passed away, I know she took great comfort in the kind and generous outpouring of stories – many of which she had never heard before – about the impact her husband had had on peoples’ lives. I had a similar experience after my sister died. Hearing from others who loved your loved one can be very powerful in the healing process but, I still think, it must be at the right time.

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  3. I am feeling exactly the same way you do, Janet. I am so glad you called me before I read it online. As I watched the announcement and comments unfold, I admit I did not like it. I felt that while it was efficient, it was somehow disrespectful. I work in “digital” for a living and I am very familiar with the impact of Facebook and social media in our current culture and global interactions. Doesn’t a death of such an important person warrant somebody stepping up and starting the more personal phone chain? This is about the person, not the viewing of others’ comments and continuing a discussion online. I don’t necessarily want to see the frequent comments of the relatives as they process their grief on a daily basis. This is a person who died unexpectedly. Absorbing all the additional comments magnifies my own grief.

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