How Did We Mourn Before Facebook?
Before Facebook, a few websites were established to maintain a perpetual memorial page for individuals. Some were attached to a funeral home website, others charged a fee to host a memorial page where visitors could light a virtual candle. Another would allow you to place a virtual bouquet on a picture of the actual grave or tombstone.
Along comes Facebook, where so many of us will take the time to share a photo or two of our loved ones on their birthday or anniversary of their death. Today, November 2nd, would have been her 96th birthday. Why we choose to go public with our memories and the need to acknowledge our grief is as personal as the relationships we shared.
My mom suffered from Alzheimer's and was taken from us long before her actual passing; my father lived on another 3 years and was quite the character. He relished life, friendships and relationships, leaving a legacy of stories and anecdotes, the stuff Facebook posts are made of. I realized that my Facebook posts were skewed toward his antics and finally his memory with each passing birthday. Mom, on the other hand didn’t get her just do, mainly because she was rather sedentary. There wasn't much to write about, or so I thought. My brother Paul, suggested our family cousins’ group share the stories of the men and woman that married into my father’s big Italian family. We knew much about our paternal aunts and uncles, but not much about their spouses. This was the beginning of the quest for information along with the recognition that their lives were full of interesting events worthy of a post. I’m sorry I didn’t learn more while they were alive, and I suppose it’s a regret many of us have. Memorializing our loved ones with Facebook friends, acquaintances and co-workers provides a cathartic release, which for some accelerates the healing process.
I think about those whose grief is palatable after the death of a child or the recent loss of one held so dear. Facebook allows a venue to channel that grief in such a way that we couldn’t before. I remember back sixteen years ago, after the sudden passing of my husband of 18 years, leaving me a single mother with three young children. Upon my return to work, the process of getting back into the swing of things negated my ability to share my deepest sorrows with my fellow co-workers. Surely they would be sympathetic, but in a corporate environment there isn’t much tolerance for personal emotions. Today, those same co-workers might be my Facebook friends who would acknowledge and accept my sentiments with hearts and teary faces, offering encouragement when needed.
If sharing your grief publicly with your FB friends doesn't feel comfortable to you, create a separate Memorial Page. It works like any other page where you can invite only those closest to the deceased and those who may want to share their feelings as well. This is a private space where you can feel free to post as many times, with as many photos as you like. There's no judgement here, as there might be on your regular page. I think most of us accept that folks have a real need to reach out in times of crisis or to whose loss is so great, but that said, we also expect them to carry on. I'm not saying if this attitude is right or wrong, it's just an observation.
Since we're on the topic of Facebook, grief and death, did you know you can assign someone to manage your page in the event of your death? So along with your Last Will and Testament, you'll want to have a trusted person run your page. They'll be able to do things like pin a post on your timeline, respond to new friend requests and update your profile picture. They won't post as you or see your messages. Another method is to provide your password to a trusted individual, however all of your private messages would be accessible, so this might not be a good option.
To learn more about how an account becomes memorialized, visit Facebook's FAQ page on the subject.
Say what you will about Facebook, and the practice of sharing our grief and sorrow, but just remember this old adage goes, “...A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.”