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How Social Media Impacts Grief

It’s natural that we want to share both triumphs and tragedies with our family and friends – and that includes posting online. However, it may be prudent to take a breath before deciding when and where it is appropriate to share grief and loss.

“People have the best intentions and mean well when they share an online tribute,” said Sara Lowe, executive director at Emmanuel Hospice. “For some, these notifications feel comforting and supportive. But for others, each ping of the phone is another reminder that someone close died.”

Lowe said the most important factor to consider before sharing news on social media is allowing the family to contact everyone before the announcement is made public. Everyone processes grief differently, and the family may be waiting to let the news sink in before sharing.

If you learn of the death right away, take the lead from immediate family members before turning to social media.

“We want to avoid family and close friends learning of a death on Facebook,” Lowe said. “Let the person closest to the deceased family member take the lead. It’s always best to hold off sharing your post until that person makes a public announcement.”

The circumstances surrounding the death can also impact how you should react on Facebook.

“With prolonged illnesses, families will often set up dedicated Facebook pages to keep extended family and friends updated,” Lowe said. “Often a death announcement will be made there, rather than on someone’s timeline.”

When it comes to posting online, keep your thoughts authentic and positive. Sharing a particular memory cannot only be therapeutic for you, but for the family as well.

Some other tips include:

  • Stay positive: Avoid sharing stories that could upset or offend anyone.
  • Do not over-share: Be considerate in how many posts you share. Sharing too many can complicate the grieving process of others.
  • Avoid tagging: If you regularly tag someone who has died, it can trigger complicated emotions for family and friends.
  • Unfriending: It is OK to “unfollow” or “unfriend” someone who has died. When you are grieving, constant reminders can be difficult, so do not feel guilty about this.

Social media can be a powerful way to build a community that helps during the grieving process.

“Social media is a powerful tool to support each other,” Lowe said. “There are many online support groups dedicated to very specific kinds of loss. It’s a great way to find strength and connect with a community.”

Lowe encourages using social media to make positive connections, but cautions against stopping there. In the end, it is important to reach out to the family personally, she explained.

“The challenge with social media is that everyone feels so connected, it’s easy to skip that personal connection,” she said. “Don’t allow Facebook to let you forget what people need in a real life – a phone call. A visit. A hug. “No online tribute can replace these human interactions.”