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Can I "Like" an Obituary?
How to Chat about Death on Social Media

While scanning your social media du jour-  friends at the beach, puppy pics, First/Last Day of School photos with sweet smiles- then you hit a post from a Friend who is sobbing through words that someone close to them has died- perhaps a friend, parent, grandparent. They are clearly grieving through a gorgeous, lengthy post and your heart just drops with emotion- even though you may not know the deceased or haven’t spoken to the person in sorrow (live) in years. Or maybe you just had coffee or you remember the deceased from some period in your life.  They are in your circle one way or another. What do you say?   How do you respond?

 

A lot of people do not know what to say. I was always one to shy away from offering words of comfort, because I just did not know what an appropriate thing to say was.  Expressing sympathy as “sorry” just didn’t feel right- I could not see how using a term used for making amends should apply also to support someone grieving.  I was never one to point to a higher power, or God, or share blessings- even if the person grieving was religious- the sentiment just did not feel right coming from me.  Some people know just the right thing to say- I was not one of them.  I have  thumbs up “liked” an obituary that was shared by a mourning friend spilling out her grief on her social media post in sympathy- because I did not know how to respond any better.   In my defense- it was a good obituary.  I did at one point transition to a heart “love” reaction- I felt a little better about that.  Until recently- I learned what to say by listening to others about death, burial ceremony, and grief.   And there is probably a lot in that post of your friend sharing their grief on their timeline- that will give you the material you need to reflect how you feel in that moment.

 

During the COVID pandemic- a lot of us were plugged into our social media outlets- hoping for some better news in our feeds, miracle posts of the virus disappearing by end of day, or a new Holderness Family video release to make us giggle for a bit.  If your feed was like mine- it was a roller coaster mixed bag of bad news, terrible news, and witty puns. There were also a lot of death announcements among my peers- more than usual it seemed. Perhaps it was because I was so plugged into my feed, but I noticed that most (not all of course) people were like me- didn’t know what to say. One person had over 300 comments and about 90% of them were autofill of “Sorry for your loss”.  Clearly, I was not alone in my loss for words.  We can do better.

 

Here are some tips when your friend posts their grief on social media, and how to respond:

 

Keep their memory alive.

When a loved one dies- it’s more profound to keep their memory alive than reacting to their death.   

Your memory of your friend’s deceased aunt may have been when you were five years old, but share what you do remember, even if it’s just a small detail.   And- if you can- incorporate how that person made you feel or reflected back to you (hopefully positive).  Examples:

 

I remember when we were kids being at your house and your aunt was there. We were so young but I think of her as someone smiling a lot.   She had such a  happy spirit.  

 

I met your friend Eileen at your wedding. I remember her green dress and that she danced a lot- she was such a good dancer! We chatted a bit- she was very sweet.  

 

Although I have not met your grandfather, I know you had childhood memories visiting him at his beach house in New Jersey.  You shared with me that you used to go crabbing with him- what wonderful experiences for the both of you.

 

If you do not have a memory to share- read the obituary or post that your friend posted. If the obituary is not available- you can search for it on www.legacy.com.  There will be a lot of material in the obituary,  within your friend’s text or photo post that you can comment on.   Examples:

 

Your grandmother had a beautiful bright smile. She sounds like she was a very caring person who loved being an educator.  She was an inspiration to her students.

 

Your friend sounds like such a strong spirit. She overcame so much in her life. Her family is beautiful.

 

This exact scenario happened to me very recently. A long ago work colleague and friend - now sometimes bump into at industry events posted an obituary of her FIL’s passing on Facebook.  The obituary was brief, but plenty of content- a former Fire Chief within his community and Navy Veteran having served in the Korean War.  I never met him but he instantly sounded like a stand up guy- a super hero.  So I posted these sentences- Hi Lxxxx,, your family and community lost a hero. I hope others follow in his footsteps. Big hugs.

 

Some people are nervous to post anything about character- because like it or not some people are just jerks, while others leave a complicated legacy.  If you don’t know the person who passed, how can you say anything with truth?  The person grieving may have strong mixed emotions, and how do you know not the say the wrong thing that will make them feel even worse?  Well, the obituary is usually constructed by the family so just stick to the context clues within the text, as this is how the family has chosen to remember the person.   In the examples above- the responses reflect the obituary as written.

 

The Commitment

Of course- if you are moved to- also respond to your friend’s grief with support.  If you post “I am here if you need me”-  well, the grieving person may indeed need you- but they may need you to take the next step.  So follow up with a text to let them know you are thinking of them. Or a phone call. If they don’t pick up then leave a voicemail (voicemail does still exist- and even better it is captured on the other end like a text). Just say you are thinking of them and offer support. Offer to drive their kids to softball practice or pick up groceries.   If you are moved to- repeat your memory of the deceased so the grieving knows that person is remembered with grace. 

 

When a person dies there is usually a lot of ceremony following tradition- including Funeral rituals or traditions of Wake or Shiva. But when period is over and everyone is gone and the grieving is no longer distracted by visitors or catered dinners- the silence can be overwhelming and the feelings can be loud. So a few weeks after the funeral and accompanying ceremonies may be a good time to reach out to your friend again to invite them to meet you for coffee or take a walk together- that may be a welcoming time to support your friend.  Your friend may welcome the break from the silence to chat about anything ordinary, or may want you listen to their emotions or memories of the person that passed.  Whatever that moment is- do not be afraid of inviting it into your life,  Let your friend guide what that experience needs to be for them. There is a good chance you will also feel uplifted by supporting a grieving friend.  

 

The Rules

It is hard to see your friend in pain- whether live or as posted through social media.  Sometimes we are motivated to share words of comfort to try to pacify the pain. It seems beneficial to offer advice that time will heal, or that it gets easier. As much as you may want to share that sentiment- it’s not really appropriate. So, find another sentence.  The grief may change, but don’t offer empty promises that it will get better or easier for that person. Think of your social media feed- I bet you can find an annual memorial to someone, posted year after year. It’s beautiful. If you started on MySpace, then onto Facebook, then Insta, now on your Tik Tok feed- you may find a memorial recurrence that is about 20 years old(!!) At this point- a “Like” or “Love” is ok- especially if you are not very close to that person. If you are inclined to- a statement of “A beautiful memory of  your college roommate” would also be appropriate. The person still grieving, perhaps after many years, would probably appreciate the acknowledgment and support.

 

Avoid putting yourself in the griever’s shoes. Josh Bloom, Funeral Director at Goldstein’s in Philadelphia suggests avoiding statements such “I know how you feel- I lost my mother too”.  Give that person space to just be in their own space- He advises as this kind of well intentioned compassion may not be perceived as such- it’s best to give that person space- even verbal space. Josh shared that when he greets a new family he starts with “I am sorry” followed by a long pause before speaking again- this verbal space allows the grieving family to digest his presence, before starting to speak again. When questioned why he uses a word associated with apology  he confirmed “Sorry is the word that people know and understand in this context”.  

 

I hope you find this article useful! For more tips and information visit www.thisishowmystoryends.com

Shari Stern is a Certified Life Cycle Celebrant and resides in the Philadelphia area.