When the news of a young adult who died by suicide was posted on Facebook a few years ago, I was surprised. The funeral arrangements followed along with an outpouring of condolences for the family. People were “liking” posts and condolence messages and yet Facebook felt like an impersonal place for such visible grief.
Nowadays, the most universal means of sharing news of a death is through social media. It’s become so commonplace that I purposely check my Facebook feed more regularly to ensure that I don’t miss any difficult losses happening to my friends.
It seems inevitable that our friends, sharing their happy times, would share their sorrows. Last week, another young adult in my community died. The news was shared on Facebook by the bereaved mom. Legions of support quickly surfaced in Facebook feeds. An obituary in the local paper was linked to Facebook and details of the memorial service were disclosed.
Within hours after the funeral, the obituary and eulogies, along with tributes, were appearing on Facebook. Heartfelt condolence messages were posted and so appreciated that they solicited likes. Tributes on BuzzFeed and YouTube continue to appear with no end in sight.
While death remains an uncomfortable topic, Facebook has come to play an important role in bringing grief into our national conversation. When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, lost her husband, her candid posts on Facebook elicited a wellspring of condolences and further opened the dialogue on death. Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive at Facebook, wrote on Facebook about his experience with miscarriage, and he too shared his grief openly.
Facebook allows us to memorialize our loved ones through tribute pages, giving friends and family a place to remember and reminisce about the deceased. These open communities help us feel less isolated in our grief. They give us a shared space to post our photos and grieve our losses.
A more current trend is to post photos and memories of our deceased family members and friends on their birthdays and the anniversaries of their deaths. It is a way for our friends to remember their loved ones and elicit support from their social network.
So how do you, as a Facebook friend, deal with loss? It is perfectly acceptable to express your condolences on Facebook. Feel free to write a comment of support, like another’s post, or share your own memories or photos of the deceased.
If you are uncomfortable talking so publicly about the pain of loss, you can ignore it. Just continue to handle condolences in the more traditional ways. Whatever you choose to do, one thing is for sure, social media is going to continue to define and re-define the ways in which we communicate.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.