When a loved one dies, their Facebook profile is both a blessing and a curse

Posted on Nov 24 2016 - 6:58pm by Huzoor Bux


LONDON — When someone you love passes away, processing that loss can be incredibly hard.

Through the annals of time, the physical vestiges of a person’s life — like clothing, letters, photographs and jewellery — have provided comfort to those grieving after their death. But now, social media means a digital imprint of a person’s life can also live on after a person has died.

Grief is a profoundly personal experience that comes in a myriad of forms. But social media is proving to be an outlet for grieving friends and family members who are coming to terms with the loss of someone they love. 

Mashable talked to three people who’ve used social media to cope with loss to find out whether taking your grief online is a help or a hindrance. 

Lifestyle blogger Luisa-Christie Walton-Stoev found Facebook to be a reassuring and helpful space when her friend passed away. Walton-Stoev told Mashable that her friend Hester died after taking the unclassified liquid party drug GBL. 

“Straight after it all happened I wrote on Hester’s wall, and even sent a message to her at one point when I was really sad. Sometimes I still find myself on her profile having a click through photos, or posts her friends have left,” says Walton-Stoev. 

“It feels reassuring, like I’m still able to remember her and let her know I’m thinking about her.”

“It feels reassuring, like I’m still able to remember her and let her know I’m thinking about her,” she continued.

Social media is both a friend and an enemy 

After activist Tamanna Miah’s best friend died, she found social media played a significant, yet complex role in her ordeal. Miah found out about her friend’s death on Facebook — something which made the news even harder to bear.  

“No one wants to learn that their friend passed away on social media. I screamed and I cried. I didn’t want to find out online,” Miah told Mashable.  

“For me Facebook also had a massive impact as a support mechanism. But, while it supported me, it also made things worse,” Miah told Mashable. 

Miah’s best friend died by suicide after struggling with mental illness. For this reason, looking through his Facebook profile became a way for Miah to look back over messages and understand what he had been going through. 

“I look back through old photos, messages, memories. I look back on the day things happened and wonder why didn’t I do anything about it. I question and judge everything I ever did and try to piece everything together,” said Miah. 

“Yesterday I just sat and read through all of our messages and thought how could I not understand what he was trying to say? You never realise what your last words to someone are,” Miah continued. 

Miah created a Facebook album of memories that she and her friend had shared. And she watched as hundreds of people wrote messages on her friend’s wall. “We would talk to each other. I felt very emotional when I read it all. It was nice to see that people really appreciated him. Nice to see people celebrated and appreciated the things he did for them,” says Miah. 

“How was I to know that green little dot on Facebook Messenger would never come up again?”

Miah says she is finding social media is both a friend and an enemy in the grieving process. For her, facing constant reminders and memories hasn’t been helpful in the grieving process. Having used Facebook as her main means of communicating with her friend, the “huge absence” of messages or status updates is extremely poignant. 

“How was I to know that green little dot on Facebook Messenger would never come up again? And that I wouldn’t ever get a Twitter notification?” 

Grief as a shared experience

When care worker Emily’s ex-boyfriend passed away suddenly while working abroad, Facebook played a considerable role in helping his mum grieve. Emily (who just wanted to give her first name) would go around to his parents’ house so they could access their son’s Facebook page using her account. 

“His mum unfortunately wasn’t friends with him on Facebook and because of privacy settings at the time, Facebook wouldn’t allow access into his account. I used mine so she could see his profile and photos,” Emily told Mashable. 

“I think his mum appreciated being able to see photos of him with friends because otherwise that would have been a part of his life she didn’t know about,” Emily continued. 

Similar to Miah, Emily found other people’s comments to be a source of comfort. 

“I think being able to share photos and memories and comments on social media brought some comfort to everyone grieving because you realise you are not alone even if you don’t know the others,” says Emily. 

‘Social media is the new town square’

Grief expert David Kessler believes that social media is extremely helpful in processing what’s happened.

“I believe social media is the new town square. A century ago, we would meet in the town square and discuss the person who had died,” Kessler told Mashable. 

Now, he says, social media provides an option for those grieving. If you want to talk, you can usually find someone else on Facebook who’s also grieving for that same person. If you don’t feel like talking, then you can hide it from your timeline. 

“People who don’t want to be a part of it don’t have to watch others grieve and share memories,” Kessler says. 

“If you can’t sleep at 3 a.m., you can go on social media and you might find someone else who’s awake and grieving,” Kessler continued. 

“We like things that mark that our loved one was here.”

Kessler says that Facebook is not just a tool that helps people reach out to other when they’re grieving, it also acts as a tangible remainder of that person’s life. 

“When a person dies, their footprint on earth gets a little smaller. We give away clothes, dissemble their room. But their digital footprint can remain forever,” Kessler says. 

“We like things that mark that our loved one was here,” he continued.

The ability to hide someone’s feed and check out temporarily is a positive aspect, particularly when seeing people’s outpourings of grief on Facebook becomes too much during your own grieving process,” says Kessler. 

Dr. Sheri Jacobson — clinical director of Harley Therapy — says that social media allows us to quickly access those who understand what we are going through. But, it can also play a harmful role if used in the wrong way, says Jacobson. 

“Online mourning can actually lead to conflict and upset if we don’t approach it wisely, or even stop us from healing and moving on,” Jacobson continued. 

“Mourning is a very individual, personal thing, so we might feel bothered by the way others are choosing to show their sadness or respect. 

Feeling that some people’s comments are self-centred, or that the commenter didn’t know the deceased well enough can occur when a griever is feeling particularly vulnerable. 

“If you find social media leaves you feeling worse every time, it might be best to stop using it for a few weeks. Most of all, don’t see social media as the only platform you use. In-person support is always better,” Jacobson. 

Everybody grieves differently and it’s important to be cognizant that social media might not always be the most helpful platform during low points. It can provide a comfort when you want to look back over the good times you’ve shared, but do exercise caution and ensure you don’t over-analyse posts and messages. 

Most importantly, do what works for you in what can be the darkest chapter of your life. 



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