Death and social media: Exercise patience

I beg of you all, exercise patience.

When one hears about a potential loss of life in the community, step number one should not be to post your shock or disbelief on Facebook. It should not be to Tweet it out and see who knows if what you think you know is true.

Just think about how social media works. One post turns to six which turns to sixty.

Now let’s add into the mix that the family has absolutely 100 percent no idea yet. The funeral director has just picked up the body of the deceased and taken the body for autopsy.

A mother and father are about to receive the worst news of their lives. Yet there are already nearly 100 remembrances and condolences on Facebook.

How would you feel if it was your post that a father read on Facebook just as the funeral director was arriving to give him the news about his son?

There is both a time and place for public grief. Facebook has it’s place. It even has a function where the page name can be changed to ‘Remembering John Smith.” Or, the page can be left as-is and can remain active for years, still offering friends the ability to share photos and write posts.

But please, exercise patience.

The moment one hears of a local tragedy is not the time to sweep it across the virtual world.

This rings especially true if you have any doubt in your mind as to if the family knows about the death yet or not.

Picture this: A family who has been notified about the loss of their daughter. Left the world far too soon. Together, they made the conscious decision to inform their other children in person. There was one family member left to notify, and that person was driving home from out of state. Remember, he has no idea at this point that one of his nearest-and-dearest relatives has passed away. While on a pit stop driving, he checks Facebook on his smartphone.


There it is. His life has changed forever.

His family knew about the loss, decided to wait the few hours for their son to arrive so that they could deliver the news in person, with loving and open arms.

Instead, the young man read about it on a Facebook post and has to remain in a condition where he can safely drive the rest of his trip?

Be mindful. Your single post can change a person’s life. A family’s life.

Imagine now that the family has not been notified yet at all and they see your post, or 30 different posts. Can you fathom the shock, disbelief, gut-wrenching feeling that would ensue?

I can. I remember when my husband saw a post on Facebook that changed his life. Someone posted that his grandmother had passed away, before any other family member could call him. Step one: disbelief. Step two: shock. Step three: anger. Step four: Why Facebook? He had to make calls to ask if his grandmother had passed, rather that the other way around.

I know as friends you, too, are likely in shock and disbelief, but please … wait.

Rather than posting something to your page, or commenting on a thread, pick up your telephone, drive to a friend’s house and have a cup of coffee. Keep it quiet until you hear official word, and know that the family has been notified. How awful would it be to post about the death of another person when in fact that person is not dead?

Imagine a long thread of posts with “sorry for the family’s loss” comments, when in fact the person has been revived by first responders. Accuracy matters. Don’t be too quick to jump on a bandwagon that may have no wheels.

How does one get “official” word? Easy. Call a funeral home. They’ll be able to verify, and you’ll be able to see if the family has been notified yet. If the funeral home employees haven’t been able to notify all family yet … kindly keep your mouth shut and your fingers off the keyboard.

Don’t be that one post that the mother sees before she’s been contacted.

If you contact a funeral home about the suspected death of a friend or loved one, and it’s confirmed, there are ways to discuss your feelings with friends on a private platform. Again, you can call someone on the phone, meet up at their house for some coffee, or if you’re not in the area, you can use the private messaging function on Facebook.

Until you are 100 percent sure the family knows about the death, please choose kindness and not post anything yourself.

Another potential option, aside from calling a funeral home, is exercising patience to see if the family posts to social media themselves. If the family goes public about a death in their family, you then are aware that they know, but I would ask continued discretion be used when posting.

I understand that with death comes shock, pain, disbelief, a rush of memories, profound sadness, immediately is not the proper time to express those thoughts to the world.

Another – likely the safest – possibility is to wait until a death notice or obituary appears in the newspaper or on the funeral home’s website. This is 100 percent proof that the family knows about the death. Once the obituary has either printed or is on the funeral home’s site, feel free to respectfully offer condolences, share memories, photos, etc.

We’re living in a time when we think we need everything immediately. A cup of coffee brewed in 20 seconds. Breakfast in my hand in less than two minutes.

You want to know what you want to know, when you want to know it, and you want to know why.

Guess what? There’s no trophy given out for “First person to post” about someone’s death.

Take it easy. Give it time. Allow the family to know and try to process. Be respectful. Be mindful.

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