Social media and grief – the online challenge

Social media and grief – the online challenge

by Melissa Waugh, MS, Grief Support Specialist at Kansas City Hospice

Grief is an internal process and mourning takes grief public to some extent, as we integrate loss into our lives. What does it mean to go through a private experience when people are used to sharing everything through social media? How do you balance a request for privacy while some people are processing grief online?

Online Obituaries

Technology has had a big impact on how memorials are handled. We expect funeral homes to post an online memorial in addition to or in place of a newspaper obituary. It allows the family to have more input and to add photos that are meaningful. Social media can help spread news to friends and family. But, the way social media plays out can also be a bit shocking.

Social Media Jumps In

While close family are dealing with urgent matters surrounding death, other family and friends may start posting on social media, taking a painful and private time public sooner than expected. It can be shocking to learn of a death from an RIP post on Facebook, when the family might have preferred having time to make calls or personal visits.

Some people take comfort from an outpouring of support on social media, while others are appalled, feeling their privacy has been violated.

When two or more family members disagree on how to handle social media, an already painful situation can get much more complicated.

It’s important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way. If the family asks for privacy and time, then it’s hoped that people will honor those requests. If they don’t, each person will need to find a way to grieve while embracing or ignoring social media.

  • You can post, delete posts and otherwise monitor their social media if you have access to the deceased’s passwords
  • You can delete unwanted posts to your own social media accounts.
  • Give yourself permission to take time off from social media if you find it upsetting.
  • Designate someone in the family to deal with social media and to reach out to people who might be overstepping the family’s wishes.
  • Do not feel pressured to comment on social media if you need time to grieve on your own.

Press Pause

A good guideline for anyone on social media to follow surrounding a death, is to wait for the family to post before initiating anything. It’s not your job to scoop everyone and be the first to post. Wait!

  • Wait for the spouse to post if deceased is married,
  • If deceased is in a relationship, wait for significant other to post.
  • Wait for parents or siblings to post if deceased in single 
  • If deceased has no family, wait for closest friend to post.

Social Media Legacy

If the deceased has been active on social media and has not designated someone to take care of the accounts, there are ways to handle each account. Facebook and other social media outlets have changed the way they deal with death and there are more options than ever before. It’s now possible to assign your Facebook account to a “legacy” person, who will be able to take over for you in ways that you designate. Each service offers guidelines in their “help” section.

If accounts are left open, reminders and interactions can continue as before, which might be painful. You may find it hard to see a birthday reminder for a deceased friend, while another person may find it a beautiful way to share a memory. So, decide how you want to take care of your own needs and think about what you might see in advance. It’s fine to limit your time or to avoid social media on days that might prove painful.

If accounts are memorialized, then others can share memories, but the account no longer functions. This can be a nice way for extended family and friends to share their memories and cope with their grief. Plus, it’s easier to avoid by people who find it stressful.

One person talked about receiving an invitation to her friend’s funeral from her friend’s Facebook page. She was shocked at first. Then she realized that it was easier on the family to use the deceased own contacts to make sure everyone was informed.

Another spoke of setting up a group on Facebook for family and friends from all over the world. It was a way to share memories and deal with grief that might have been too painful face-to-face. Also, it let people unable to travel to the funeral be a part of the community and grief process.

Whatever your feelings about social media, it’s become part of our lives and another aspect to consider when dealing with the death of a loved one.

Additional resources:

One family’s story of social media gone awry by Taya Dunn Johnson

Has social media changed the way we grieve? by Susie Coen

Copyright 2016, 2019 © Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care. All rights reserved.

Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Journeys.

The mission of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care is to bring expert care, peace of mind, comfort, guidance, and hope to people who are affected by life-limiting illness or by grief. And, our vision: each person in our community is valued from life through death and each family is supported in their grief.


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