Social media, in particular Facebook, is providing an important platform for people to share their grief. The days of being isolated in the journey are over. This isn’t to say that people are no longer overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and sorrow because they can talk about it on Facebook. They still have all the same feelings; however, Facebook is helping people to mourn the loss of loved ones.
Facebook connects us to the outside world. We make friends with people living in cities and countries that we may never meet. Family and friends in our intimate social circle may not see us daily, but they are up-to-date on what’s happening with our jobs, children, grandchildren and life in general. Facebook, along with other social media platforms, has taught us how to reach out and share what is going on at any given moment of our day, if we so choose. So it seems natural to me that people will utilize this connection to express their sorrow.
I have seen profile pages fill with beautiful tributes for the person after they pass. I have also seen new pages dedicated to the person with titles like, “R.I.P. (insert name).” Family, friends and acquaintances post pictures, comments, poems, songs, favorite memories, and expressions of shock, sorrow, and disbelief. Others, who do not know the person that died but know someone connected to him or her, also leave comments of support. It gives people a “gathering place” 24/7 to work through the pain of losing someone they cared about.
Here are three thoughts on why Facebook is an important part of the grief journey:
• Facebook provides ongoing support for as long as it’s needed
One of the challenges for the bereaved is that long after family and friends return to the normal routines of life, they are still hurting. The nights can be especially lonely and it’s common to pace the floors while the rest of the world is sleeping. Being able to log on to Facebook and chat with someone provides “real time support.” Even scrolling through the newsfeed will provide some distraction and a way to not feel so alone.
• It provides a permanent tribute to the person who died
The bereaved can be unfairly judged for setting up a shrine when photos, personal items and other mementos are displayed or kept as a way to remember a loved one. It’s normal to want to have items that connect us to the person. Facebook pages, whether it is a tribute page or the deceased person’s personal page, provides a permanent record of photos, heartwarming messages, and a history of the person’s life. Family and friends can return as often as needed to express their love. This becomes invaluable when facing a birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or other special occasion without a loved one.
•You can keep your loved one as a “friend” forever
Is it necessary to “deactivate” a loved one’s page or “unfriend” them after they die? This will be the angst for many. “How can I close my loved one’s page? It feels disrespectful and it hurts too much.” In my opinion, NO… you do not have to deactivate their page or unfriend them. You can keep your loved one as a “friend” forever. As a person moves along the grief journey and they heal their broken heart, the need to revisit the page may become less and less. That’s okay. It’s normal. It doesn’t mean that you have forgotten your loved one, because you never will. It is no different than visiting a person’s grave. It is not uncommon for family and friends to visit a gravesite on a regular basis following the person’s death. Over time those visits become less frequent and eventually may be reserved for special occasions or holidays, such as the deceased person’s birthday or anniversary of his or her death. As the visits to a grave, memorial site, or a Facebook page begin to lessen, it is a sign the bereaved is healing.
In closing, we have no control over what Facebook will do in the future if a page becomes inactive, but my hope is that they will leave things alone.
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