Death and Facebook

“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”
Death Be Not Proud -John Donne

Can’t say with any certainty whether that old bag of bones known as the Grim Reaper knows how social media has impacted his work

Don’t know if he ever reads Facebook status updates and gnashes his bony teeth because he just learned about a fabulous party he wasn’t invited to or if he ever gets frustrated when he sees pictures of his friends on amazing vacations in places that have names he can’t pronounce.

What I do know is that Facebook and social media in general have definitely impacted what happens after the skeletal dude with the scythe does his job.

This Is Not An Academic Piece

I am not a sociologist, psychologist nor do I play a shrink on television so don’t ask me to give you the scientific reasons for why some things happen. Your role here is to agree, disagree or sit there slackjawed with a fistful of Twinkies.

Now that we have gotten the legal stuff out of the way let’s resume our talk about Facebook and death.

The prompt for this particular post came from a Facebook reminder I received about my friend’s birthday. I like those reminders because they are a big part of why I look like I am exceptionally thoughtful as opposed to just thoughtful.

Under normal circumstances this reminder would have been great and I would have come up with something witty like, ‘Happy Birthday, you are really old now” except it doesn’t go over well when the person has died.

Yep, that notice was for a friend of mine who died last year.

Communal Mourning

When people care about someone however old they are when they pass is immaterial. I can tell you it was easier to say goodbye to my grandparents because when you are in your nineties it is natural but it doesn’t mean I miss them less.

Still when you die in your forties it is more shocking and consequently harder to accept which makes me wonder if having a Facebook page is good for communal mourning.

In the situation I am thinking about it appears to have helped some people. I watched as a personal page was turned into a group page upon which people shared their grief and leaned on each other. They told stories about our friend and we gained some insight we might not have had.

A Snapshot In Time

It also reminds me about how our social media presence provides a snapshot in time. If I dropped dead (don’t panic family, I feel good) and my Blog, Facebook and Twitter were frozen what would I leave behind?

Would it be something profound? Would it be insightful? Would people take comfort in it?

It is hard to say.

If the bony guy caught me off guard maybe you’d be left with some snarky status update about mean moms or parents who act like jerks at drop-off and pick up. Maybe it would be a response to some 140 character tweet and you’d have no clue what to make of it

Fortunately for me I have danced with the bony guy once or twice and I know his moves. He drops his left just before he swings so I always know which way to step. It is a good thing he is already dead because the last two shots I landed would have killed him.

My grandfather would have loved to have seen his lessons paid off, but I digress.

Facebook As Messenger Of Death

It sounds a bit grim and somewhat morbid but Facebook also serves as a messenger of death. It is how I heard about a different friend and my great aunt.

Got to admit it was a bit odd and awkward to find out that someone had died that way. But in some ways it makes sense because a small group of people had begun to mourn and when you do so online you open it up to a much larger crowd and as more people get involved it becomes more likely and much easier for the news to reach someone before the telephone call.

It is not necessarily a bad thing, just another one of the changes that have come via social media.

What about you? Do you have any thoughts, feelings or ideas you want to share here?

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15 Comments

  1. Mohammad ismail January 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    This is once of the best and informative post i have read, some people are posting articles without knowing the basic step of communication and writing skills.
    You have the ability and know the way of how to convince your reader to read the whole article, very creative post, just keep it going.
    Thank you 🙂

  2. Nancy Smyth December 17, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Thanks for such a thoughtful blog post! I’ve also done some thinking and writing about grieving and how our online social media tools can be helpful in this process. I agree that finding out about a death on Facebook does feel a bit strange (I’ve gone through this a couple of times). And even so, I do think that communal Facebook pages can be helpful for people in a time of mourning, and I’ve written more about this in this blog post: http://njsmyth.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/the-power-of-community-in-times-of-grief-facebook-in-action/. My own series of posts on grieving in virtual spaces originated when a close colleague (a psychologist) and friend died and I began a Facebook page as a memorial project. The page became a place for people who were touched by his death, but often not close enough to his family to be included in all the place-based grief rituals, to share memories and connect with others doing the same. I also learned from his wife that she and her children would sometime visit the page and read what people had written. Finally, to this day (it’s been over two years since he died), some of his former clients still come across the page and learn of his death through Facebook.

    The other related topic that you raise–what we leave behind online after we’re dead–is such a new one for our culture that it will be interesting to see how it evolves. To give an example, this past week a man died who was much loved by many of my Second Life friends. Many of them only knew him in his online persona, Lalo Telling, in his blog (http://lalotelling.wordpress.com/) or in Second Life. After he was admitted to hospice, he hired someone as his scribe so that his online community would have regular updates about him as he was dying. This unique project was much appreciated by those who were grieving from a distance and probably was also a relief to those who were with him who then didn’t need to worry about how to communicate with his online community. Lalo died this past Friday and there was an update letting everyone know that this had happened. I went back to read it this morning (after reading your post) and was surprised and a little sad to find the update blog (lalotellingupdates.wordpress.com) had been taken down. There was part of me that wanted all of his digital legacy to continue, including those “Lalo Telling Updates”, maybe because it is visual confirmation that someone’s life had an impact and will be remembered.

    • Josh December 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Nancy,

      It is nice to meet you. Your stories are solid and I appreciate the contribution. I have been thinking about all this quite a bit and I really see both sides. There is something to be said for making a place for communal grieving. It is part of what we do when we create public vigils so it makes sense to do so online too.

      And the story about Lalo, well that catches my eye because it is also something I have thought about. If I was dying how would I use my blog.

  3. stephanie December 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Thought provoking post, Josh. I think if a loved one was so troubled by seeing my FB page or my blog after my death they should be allowed to take it down. On the other hand, I have a sister who doesn’t have time to read all my posts. I imagine that if I dropped dead she would pour over them, and it would help her. So it works both ways. Providing someone with all your passwords is essential, I think.

    • Josh December 16, 2012 at 12:14 am

      Hi Stephanie,

      I mentioned this to one of my siblings today and they reminded me about how our grandfather wanted to be cremated and not buried.

      That was because he said he was claustrophobic, but we were very much against cremation. When he asked me why I explained it and told him that I thought it was important to look after the people that were going to be left behind.

      He agreed with the logic and when he died we buried him.

      It is a long winded way of saying I think it is worth giving the loved ones who outlive us some say in the matter.

  4. My Inner Chick December 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    –I feel Facebook is a great platform for support, encouragement, & prayer.

    I know it has been for me. Where elsse can you find 500 people immediately to give you advice & a virtual Hug!?

  5. Sapna December 15, 2012 at 9:27 am

    HI

    I have never experienced such thing before. I have never thought of what will happen of facebook and twitter account once I am no more.
    Who will be having the passwords to operate those. Never worked on detailing aspect yet.

    Thanks for sharing this info and surely food for thought.

    Sapna

    • Josh December 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm

      Hi Sapna,

      I haven’t given my passwords to anyone nor any sort of instructions as to what to do if I die and I am not entirely sure I want to.

      It is not an easy question to answer.

  6. Tim Bonner December 15, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Hi Josh

    I’ve not experienced this on any social media site yet, the death of a friend. It must be a strange way to find out that someone has passed away.

    Even stranger to get a reminder for the birthday of someone who has passed away and for status updates to continue.

    I think I would rather everything was shut down when I die.

    • Josh December 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      Hi Tim,

      The birthday notice is what pushed me to write this post. That felt odd to me, I didn’t like it much. Not my choice to keep the page up so that is someone else’s decision, but it felt a bit off.

  7. Lori Gosselin December 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Josh, Hi Barrett,
    This is a timely issue. When a friend of mind died in February, her husband left her page up and posted there occasionally -to her. It all felt eerie. I see her photo show up as one of my friends and it makes me sad to remember all over again that she’s not here. I know friends and family also posted on her page, and maybe it did help them, but please take my page down when I go. If I’m not here to respond, what’s the point? I don’t want a living memorial. One last blog post (assuming I’m still blogging then) and that’s it. When my son died this summer, we waited a short while, let his friends know in case they wanted to save any conversation history or photos, and then we took the page down.
    I guess it’s something we need to let our closest people know – cremation or burial, Facebook page stays or goes.
    Lori

    • Josh December 15, 2012 at 1:02 pm

      Hi Lori,

      I see this as being a subjective answer that changes in different situations. When I see my friend’s picture on my screen it definitely feels a bit odd. I know they’re gone and that there won’t be any cards, emails or telephone calls but that picture almost makes me feel like I am going to hear from them.

      I don’t know what I would do in your shoes, really am not sure. And when it comes to me, well I guess I would leave it up to family.

      If having a page helped them then go ahead but if it doesn’t make it easier to get over things than I would want them to pull it down.

      It is ok to miss me, but I don’t want anyone to stop living because of it. If I am gone, say goodbye, think of me from time to time and live your life.

  8. Barrett Rossie December 14, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Good topic Josh.

    I’m accumulating a growing number of deceased friends on FB, LinkedIn, etc. It’s sad, for sure, to find out that you’re linked in to someone because you’re both 1st degree connections to your deceased client… Or that you even learn that someone has passed away on a social network. But I guess that’s just something we’re learning to deal with.

    One situation that really bothers me is that a particular friend of mine, who died way too young, is still “active” on FB… His partner is liking things, making political comments, etc., in his name, with his account. I know that people don’t want to let go. But this is stepping over a line.

    • Josh December 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm

      Hi Barrett,

      It is becoming more common to learn about life cycle events this way and I don’t see it changing so I suppose we have to become accustomed to it.

      I am sorry to hear about your friend and I agree with you. It would bother me too to see the things you are talking about. There definitely is a line there.

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