Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grieving Your Friends on Facebook

Last week two separate articles caught my eye.

The first was the announcement by Facebook that users could now designate an “executor” to manage your account after you die.

I’ve written before about friend grief and Facebook: finding out about a friend’s death, setting up a tribute page, and the shock of seeing a notice of their upcoming birthday. You'll see a few links at the bottom of this post.

For years, surviving friends and family members have struggled with what to do about the deceased’s online accounts. Sometimes it’s the challenge of finding the password that no one else knew. Sometimes it’s proving to Facebook that that person died and their page should be archived. In addition, multiple tribute pages can pop up after someone dies.

Now we can all name our Facebook executor, who will be responsible for our page(s) after we die. That’s one less complication left for survivors to deal with: though, sadly, they will not have the power to delete those embarrassing selfies that you felt compelled to share with the world.

The other article was a column by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune, about grieving for someone she only knew on Facebook.

A friend of mine compared Facebook friends to pen pals (remember pen pals?): someone we write to but never really expect to meet in person. It defines the friendship, but doesn’t diminish it.

Like it or not – and plenty of people don’t – Facebook and other social media are not going away any time soon. Our attention may wander from Facebook to Twitter to Google+ to Instagram to Tumblr to Pinterest…you get the idea. But go away? Not likely.

I hate turning on my computer and seeing a Facebook post or open an email like I did this morning that begins with “Sad news…” The email was about a former customer who became a friend, a passionate school librarian I hadn’t seen in over a year. I’d noticed her absence at a couple of meetings, but never got a straight answer about why she wasn’t there.

Knowing her, that was deliberate. Either she told no one or gave strict instructions to not share what was going on in her life. And trust me, if you’d seen ‘that look’ she sometimes gave (I saw it directed at others, not me), you would keep your mouth shut.

I’m sad not just that she’s gone, but that I didn’t know how ill she was. Maybe sending a card or email wouldn’t have meant anything to her, but I would’ve had the chance to connect one last night.

She didn’t have a Facebook page, so I can’t go there to post anything. At least I got the email from the librarians’ organization, so now I can attend her funeral. That news pushed me to email another former librarian customer who’s not on the email list, so maybe a little good can come of it all.

But I do miss that opportunity to go on Facebook and share a story or express my appreciation for the almost 20 years that we knew each other.

Keep that in mind as you consider appointing a Facebook executor. Maybe you’ll take the option of crafting final messages, maybe you won’t. But before you dismiss the idea of what your Facebook page will be like after you’re gone, take a moment to think of the friends left behind.

They may be a tight-knight group who all know each other in real life. More likely, they’re a far-flung group who have never all been in one place at the same time, other than your page.

Give them the parting gift they’ll appreciate the most: the chance to say goodbye, to say thanks, to say they love you.

Trust me, they’ll be grateful.

Here are some other posts about grieving on Facebook:

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