Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Role Social Media Plays in Coping With Loss

If you read my last post, you're aware that I recently lost someone close unexpectedly. It's been a difficult time as it is with the passing of anyone important to you, but one thing that has really stood out is the role that social media and social networking sites, particularly Facebook, have played in the grieving and healing process.

Social networking sites provide a great outlet for engaging with your friends and family and perhaps at no point in your life is this type of engagement more crucial then when you’ve lost someone. And while there are dozens of ways in which social media can help the coping process, I’ve highlighted a couple of the ways in which my cousins, who are coping with the loss of their mother, have seen Facebook help them thru this very difficult time.


Sometimes you want to whisper -- other times you want to SCREAM. For better or worse, social media channels like Facebook allow us to do just that, whenever we want.

At a difficult time like this, social media sites provide an outlet that don’t require us to pick up the phone and make a call, but rather allows us to take time to think about what we want to say, and then share it.

Take the post below; it allowed my cousin to memorialize his mother, in his words. He didn’t have to explain why he was posting it or answer any questions – he was in complete control of the message, and it was posted when he was ready to share it. And based on the number of likes and comments, the response surely had a positive impact on his healing process.

Say Things Once

When things happen unexpectedly, the first question is always "what happened?" For minor things, explaining what happened over and over again is usually not a problem. However, when it comes to the loss of a loved one, it can be difficult to continue to tell the same story over and over again.

This is another area where Facebook (and other social media sites) provide the ability to share information with a broader group of people more efficiently. Take the post below for example:

Before Facebook, my cousin would have had to make dozens of phone calls to share this information and would have received another dozen calls from people who were unable to locate it on their own or heard it from someone else. In her words, every time she had to tell the story to someone, it made her cry, so the fewer times she had to do this, the better.

This also allowed the message to reach a much wider audience because it’s likely she wouldn’t have had time to call everyone. This led to a ton of positive, supportive posts and messages on Facebook, and a larger attendance at the services because people that they might not have thought to call, saw the message and came.

Support 2.0

Common sense tells us that the loss of a parent is one of the hardest things we’ll ever have to cope with. For most, what helps us get through difficult times is the support and love of our friends and family, and I think it's perhaps needed at this time more than any other.

I am close to my cousins and they know that I'm here for anything they need, but I also wanted to respect their need for space at a time like this. And clearly I wasn't alone. More than twenty unique posts containing messages of support and encouragement were posted on their Facebook time lines (instead of shared via phone call), and that's not counting the hundreds of comments and likes that each of these posts received. This respected their need for space, but let them know that we still were thinking about them.

It Provides an Online Memorial
My Cuz and I Rocking Our Z
Cavariccis circa the early 90's
In many cases, I’ve seen users setup Facebook pages in memory of others that are no longer with us. Whether or not that’s appropriate is up for discussion, but with the way the Facebook timeline functionality works, users can easily see all the posts that were made to or about them, the comments, the photographs, and anything else that was shared during this time.

While it may not be something they’re ready to consume right now, having the ability to view that display of support and love, and the memories that were shared is certainly something that very few (if any) other channels could provide. These memories and photographs (such as the award winner to my right), brought back good memories and showed how important an influence this person had on everyone she interacted with (she was responsible for dressing my cousin!).


Social networking sites and social media channels like Facebook are always going to be a lightning rod for discussion -- heck, just look at the recap of a conversation on this that I wrote about last week!

But for all those that are quick to dismiss the value that a social networking site like Facebook offers (regardless of its stock price), there are certainly moments in our lives where its value is immeasurable. Facebook can't bring back what we've lost, but it can certainly help ensure that her memory lives on.

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  1. Hi Jon:

    I am very sorry for your loss. My mom passed away last year and on the day it would have been her birthday, I posted to Facebook that I was baking a cake in her honor. It was based on a conversation I had with her just a week or two before she died. She said she wanted a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting...right out of the box. So I made the cake and posted to Facebook.

    I got several responses from my friends on how they honored their deceased parents every year on their birthday. Suddenly, after reading their responses, I did not feel so isolated and alone in my grief. I think, after that, I had a renewed respect and appreciation for tools like Facebook for how they can bring people who are geographically far apart a little closer together.

    Nice post!

    1. Hi Tim,
      Thanks for reading, and I'm sorry for your loss. I'm glad to hear social media was able to help you through your difficult time and I know that our family is leveraging it as well. In fact, I can't imagine what it would be like without it, we feel very connected right now. Hope to see you Thursday night!



  2. Hi Jon,

    I am sorry to hear of your loss. It is never an easy time.

    As always, you have given me something to think about. I never considered how much social media plays a part in our life events now. I have been very fortunate not to have lost anyone close for some time, but I have been able to be a part of things, and offer support or sympathy to people I care about though social media.

    In fact, my wife and I were just discussing how I should use Facebook to communicate updates on her upcoming surgery to family and friends. As you said, it will give us more control over the message, and reduce the number of phone calls and repeated conversations that would have been needed just a few years ago.

    Good job in showing us how important these communication channels are now.

    Joe Mayberry

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