Social media is a major part of life today.
It even takes prominence after the death of a loved one or friend. For example, most funeral homes now commonly post formal memorial pages where individuals can leave condolence messages for the family. The uses of social media around loss and grief, however, go far beyond the funeral home and may be positive or negative.
Social media can be a way to let others quickly know about the loss and about funeral arrangements or a memorial service. It also allows family members to inform friends and acquaintances about the death, without having to make numerous, and often emotionally painful, phone calls. The family can choose the level of details about the death that they wish to include in their post, and, if desired, can express the meaning of the loss to themselves and their family. Sometimes, though, a public outpouring of grief can be so raw and overwhelming that the reader doesn’t quite know how to respond.
The use of social media, however, can result in an immediate show of support and compassion for the grieving loved ones.
It can reinforce how special the individual was to others and how significant their life was and their loss will be. These responses are generally thought to be comforting. At the same time, a family member’s comments on a Facebook wall or blogging about the loss can bring comfort to relatives and friends who are trying to process and make sense of what has occurred.
On a personal level, social media provides an opportunity to acknowledge your grief, to reconnect one more time, or to say goodbye to the person you have lost. However, if not used appropriately, social media can backfire. Instead of supporting and comforting loved ones and friends, it can add to their stress and even heighten their grief.
For example, it can chastise others, even inadvertently, for a lack of attention or inadequate support, making them feel guilty, embarrassed, or angry. Statements such as, “I wish he had gotten a second opinion,” or “I had hoped her friends would visit more” may seem mild but can be hurtful. Giving advice is not useful either. Suggesting that the family sue the doctors or take some other action is misguided at best and can add to the family’s grief.
Here are 10 Guidelines for Using Social Media to Express Grief:
Remember that grief is emotional.
Comments can be easily misinterpreted and can have a long-lasting impact. Once your words are out there you can’t take them back.
Never use offensive language in your comments.
Most families want respect for their lost loved one and there are still generational differences in what is considered acceptable. Using profanity to express your deep sorrow may be unsettling to them.
There are no magic words but try not to be trite.
Think about what you can say that has some meaning for the griever. Don’t simply repeat the currently overused refrains of “My thoughts and prayers are with you” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” Instead, say something personal and sincere such as I’ll miss her every day” or “He was my best friend for 20 years. His friendship can never be replaced.”
Respect the family’s privacy and their limits of what they want to disclose.
The family, not friends and others, should determine what is made public. Don’t add details or describe your last interaction (“He looked like he was dying last week”) or repeat gossip (“I heard he wanted all treatment stopped, so he actually chose to die”), and never betray confidentiality by posting something you were asked not to reveal.
Don’t impose your own religious views.
Avoid statements like “She’s with God now” or “She was needed in heaven.” While these beliefs may be comforting to you they may not resonate with the mourning family.
Carefully choose your words of condolences.
Avoid phrases like “We know he’s in a better place” or “You must be glad she isn’t suffering anymore.” These are often off-putting to the family especially if they did everything possible to relieve her suffering when she was alive, and they don’t think a “better place” exists than being home with them.
Don’t try to tell your own story of loss and grief or make comparisons.
This includes avoiding saying “I know just how you feel.” While there may be similarities to a loss you previously experienced, no one can know the level of grief of another person. You simply can’t know how they feel.
Keep anecdotes short and meaningful.
Saying, “I always loved spending time with him” or “We made so many memories together” are fine but avoid longer stories that make you and your feelings the focus of the loss.
Don’t respond online simply because it’s expedient or as a way to avoid the situation.
A written note, phone call, or visit is more personal and, generally, much more meaningful. These contacts also provide important support and are greatly appreciated by the bereaved.
Mark the six month and the first year anniversaries of the death on your calendar.
Send a brief email note or card on each of those days. Remember, grief lasts a long time and families are comforted by knowing others miss their loved one, too. Your ongoing contacts can give the bereaved hope; hope that the loved one’s life had meaning and that he or she has not been forgotten; hope that life can, and does, go on despite the pain; and hope for a future better than today.
Social media has a place in loss and with grief.
In fact, some experts are closely watching how social media is changing our grieving practices. But, like other online communication, it can’t take the place of your presence, your touch, or a personal conversation. These still provide a comfort that an online message simply can’t convey.
Do you have any tips to help express grief that did not get mentioned above? Please share them with us in the comments section below! You just may help someone reading this.