Grief in the Digital Age

By Melissa Waugh, MS, Grief Support SpecialistGrief Support at Kansas City Hospice


Grief is an internal process and mourning may make grief public, but 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? How do you deal with grief in the digital age?



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 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 a family asks for privacy and time, you hope people will honor those requests. If they don’t, each person needs to find a way to grieve while embracing or ignoring social media.

  • If you have access to the deceased’s passwords, you can post, delete posts and otherwise monitor their social media.
  • 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

Grief in the Digital Age KCH

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!

  • If deceased is married, wait for the spouse to post.
  • If deceased is in a relationship, wait for significant other to post.
  • If deceased in single, wait for parents or siblings to post.
  • 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 shared passwords, there are ways to handle accounts. 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, and might be painful. It may be 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 way for extended family and friends to share memories and cope with grief. Plus, it can be more easily avoided by those who find it stressful.

Kansas City Hospice Grief SupportIt could be shocking to be notified of their funeral from friend’s Facebook page, but it an be easier on the family to use the deceased own contacts to make sure everyone is informed.

A family might set up a group on Facebook for people in diverse locations. It’s one way to share memories and deal with grief that might be too painful face-to-face. Plus, it lets people unable to travel to be a part of the 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.

The grief support specialists at Kansas City Hospice and Solace House can help you cope with issues of grief and loss. It’s part of our mission to provide compassionate care to our community.

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“Grief in the Digital Age” was originally published in Journeys grief newsletter in the Autumn of 2016.

Copyright 2016, 2018 © Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care. All rights reserved.

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