When people die on Facebook

Death

Yesterday morning I woke up to discover the death of a Facebook friend.

We’ve been watching her die slowly on Facebook for the past several weeks.

She actually friended me about a month ago.  She was the daughter of my children’s babysitter when they were mere babes.  For a very short stint, we once worked together.

About five or ten years ago we had a significant encounter, one of those encounters of which I’ve lost all the particulars.  I know I had a dream about her.  We ran into one another outside the sauna of a local motel.  I shared the dream with her–not one detail can be recalled all these years later–and we bonded deeply for maybe twenty minutes.

Maybe I also shared the dream I had of her mother, our babysitter, before she died.  I dreamed of a Native American blanket wrapped around her basement.  A few weeks later she was unexpectedly dead.

I don’t recall what we talked about outside the sauna, but we talked, and we hugged and laughed and maybe cried, and then five years pass in the blink of an eyelash and she friended me on Facebook.

Illness

She posted statuses about chemotherapy.  It seemed she had cancer, but details were not forthcoming.  A week or more ago her fiance began posting statuses sharing her decline.

Every day we looked to see if she made it through the night.  Someone suggested under the comments that her faith wasn’t strong enough; she was hanging on because she was afraid.  I bristled about that but remained silent.  Maybe the Universe (or whatever you call the divine) had its own timetable that didn’t involve fear or faith.

We waited with bated breath.

Would she live or die?  We hung on her fiance’s every status update.

Waiting

Yesterday evening she died.

The community of her friends mourn; they share comment after comment brimming with memories and love.  Goodbye, goodbye, we loved you, you are an angel now, we’ll miss you, here’s some light to guide your way.

You know I’ve had mixed feelings about Facebook over the years.  I even left the Book for six months in indecision.

Yet, in the deaths of friends and family, I think Facebook can be a good thing.

A community exists to mourn together.  A community spread across the country, across all divides.  Whereas in the past, when someone died, we might hear about it from the newspaper obituary, from our mothers, from a friend–now we hear about it from Facebook.  There is a space for the extended community of friendship to mourn together in a new way, beyond the funeral home.

Spirit

A high school classmate died last month.  We classmates on FB learned about it and offered our condolences.  We looked at pictures of Sally.  We remembered the way she laughed.  We pulled back our personal memories.  I remembered when she worked at my dad’s drugstore and we laughed together.  I remembered her at class reunions.

It was a goodbye that we would never have without Facebook.  Without Facebook, I would have heard about her death from perhaps Christie or my mom.  It would have been a momentary fleeting sadness, soon to be forgotten.

With Facebook, I participated in a loving community of friends and family who wrote testimonials on her wall.  Who spoke to her as if her spirit still existed among us.

Those of us who couldn’t attend the funeral felt connected, involved, present.

She is still on of my Facebook friends, even though gone.

When do you delete a friend?  When their body dies, or when your spirit has finally and fully said farewell?

If you’re on Facebook, have you experienced a friend’s death?  Any thoughts about this new avenue for grieving the passing of friend or family?

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73 responses to “When people die on Facebook

  1. I’m sorry that your friend died. But glad that you were able to feel connected to her until the end…and after. I have not experienced a human friend’s death since facebook…but many friends’ dogs and cats have been mourned. Somehow it is good to know when you face such a huge loss that you are not alone. And facebook and blogs and calls and letters and cards all help a person get through that initial pain. Whatever connects a person to another is a good thing.

    • Dawn, thank you very much. I was not very close to this person, although we had connected sporadically over the years. I like whatever helps us to feel connected.

  2. I love this post. I love that you captured one of the best things we’ve gained from this technology and social media that I, for one, have such a love-hate relationship with.

    Thanks for sharing this heart-felt and thought-provoking post, Kathy.

    May she rest in peace.

    • I don’t know if you’re on Twitter, Kathy, but I wanted you to know I tweeted a link to this post. :)

    • I am glad you enjoyed this post, Christine. It seemed very timely to write it. I, too, have that love-hate relationship with Facebook. I have written a few blogs sharing what I don’t like about it. It felt right to share something positive, too. (As for Twitter, used to Tweet, but no longer! Thank you so much for sharing there.)

  3. What an interesting post Kathy. I just “liked” a post put up as a monument to a friend we lost last year. I am watching another friend decline. I don’t know the answers to your questions.

    • I’m not sure there are definitive answers, Tammy. As time goes by, I’m relaxing a bit into learning to live with the questions. So sorry about your friend that you lost, and also about the one that is failing.

  4. What a coincidence. I think it was just yesterday that I was thinking along similar lines. This lady I sort of knew, who recently passed away, was suggested as someone I may know.
    It was so strange, like a reminder from another world. I stared at her picture for a long time.

    • A coincidence, indeed, Munira. Both of the woman I described here could have been were people I “sort of” knew. And, yes, staring at their pictures for a long time, and reconciling–or wanting to reconcile–past and future.

  5. Last year my Mother died and I decided not to post that on Facebook for among my friends there are some real close ones but there’s also lots of “acquaintances” and I just felt I didn’t want to share something that private with people I hardly know.
    However two of my friends who knew (one was dutch and one from the US) happen to mention it and I got some very heartwarming reactions, so it was then I decided to post a picture of me and Mom and address these people. The reactions were overwhelming, sweet, genuine and it felt so comforting to me to also hear such loving words from people asll over the globe.

    • Lucienne, I can understand why it might feel uncomfortable to share something as private as the loss of a dear one with people we hardly know on Facebook. Perhaps some things do need to be kept more quiet, closer to our hearts, as we grieve. It’s interesting that you had a positive experience when you shared. I don’t know what I will do when the time comes. **hugs, my dear friend**

  6. I had a facebook friend who died. No one has deleted her account on facebook and so she is still there. I still have her picture in my list. Sometimes, because of the way facebook works, another of my friends will say to me – hey – who is soandso, facebook recommended her as a friend because she is one of yours. Then I need to explain. She wasn’t a close friend, I can imagine this being painful for her close friends to have to explain it again and again.

    • Kerry, I have not had a close friend die on Facebook, either, so don’t know how that would feel. It’s interesting that our departed friends can remain there for days and weeks and months and years. If it was painful to explain, maybe that would be a time to delete them…but I don’t know…

  7. I recently learned of a friend’s death through a rest-in-peace notice on FB. Not the way I would have chosen to learn about her death, but I just happened to see it before reading my minister’s group e-mail.

    Sorry to hear about your friend, Kathy. :-( But it sounds like Facebook provided some comfort, too, which is good.

    • Editor, I suppose that might seem like a sadder or more callous way to hear about a friend’s death. It might be softer to hear about it in person. I was sorry to hear about Lisa and Sally’s deaths on FB, too. I can’t imagine how it would feel if it was a close friend that died. Because I wouldn’t have heard about either of these deaths perhaps for a while, it did feel comforting to watch the community celebrate their lives.

  8. Thought-provoking, Kathy. Since being on Facebook, I’ve lost a dear mutual friend of ours and my brother. I have mixed feelings about the sharing but do think that the sense of community in grieving and honoring is beneficial. I admit to be squeamish about details of persons’ illnesses being posted on Facebook but that’s my own sense of privacy about such things. And I admire those who have the courage to share! I am sorry for this recent loss of your friend. Thank you for this topic today…

    • I can see what you mean about mixed feelings about sharing. It seems like sometimes FB (and other social media) can trivialize feelings and attempt to crop them into something which feels shallow or fake. Haven’t really noticed about illness details–will have to see if I have a reaction to them or not. Thanks for the condolences about my friends. It would be so challenging if it was a friend one knew well or deeply.

  9. Yes, absolutely! Our family has dealt with several profound losses over the last two years, and it has been such an amazing comfort and feeling of “connectedness” to be able to share each others stories, memories and photos as well as feelings. Friends and family members are scattered all over the country, but Facebook provides us a place to collectively share and be supportive of one another. You said is so well, thank you!

    • Phyllis, it sounds like Facebook has been a godsend to you and your family during challenging losses. It can be a place that brings scattered people together into a sense of community at such times.

  10. I think you’re right about facebook being an important vehicle for people to share stories and recollections. I’ve not had a friend die since I’ve had a facebook account. But back in the days when I was resisting there was much talk among my local friends about how nice it was to connect when a mutual friend on the coast passed away. I also find that I am more sympathetic when people lose their parents on facebook, just because I’m more likely to hear their stories. You kind of get to know them posthumously. It’s also kind of sweet to see the anniversary reminders pop up every now and again.

    • Lisa, perhaps it’s good–wherever and whenever–we all have a chance to bond and share stories and recollections, whether on blogs or FB or other social media. It’s also very interesting to me the ways we resist and don’t resist such sharing. I’ve had my share of positive AND negative feelings about it!

  11. Dear Kathy, I am so sorry to hear of the death of your friend. May she rest in peace and may her circle of loved ones find peace and comfort in her memory. I have not lost any fb friends to death, although friends of friends have passed on. More common are the deaths of our beloved pets. And while there can be so many negative things about fb, this is one time that fb allows for us to connect and to lighten each others load by sharing the grief. It allows for us to “lean” on one another despite being many miles apart. And it gives the grieving loved ones a chance to celebrate the life of their dear one.
    I love the dream you had about your friend’s Mother…with the Navajo blanket wrapped around her basement. That’s a lovely vision…warmth and comfort and security wrapped around the foundation of our earthly home. Rather like a big hug to help us feel secure enough to travel onward. Thank you for sharing that dream Kathy ♥

    • Brenda, I had a friend who lost her pet earlier this fall~~it was so sad to feel her grief as she shared this on FB. You wrote some very positive things about the ability we have to lighten the loads of others by our compassion. Glad you felt the energy in this dream about the Native American blanket. It felt so significant at the time.

  12. I haven’t lost a Facebook friend, fortunately. I think Facebook has its pros and cons, but I think you’re right – it helps the grieving process. That person is still present, though gone. Not erased. Still present until you are ready to say goodbye.

    • May you not lose a Facebook friend for a long time, Stacy. And your thoughts are very interesting–that we can choose to keep that person present in our lives until we’re ready to say farewell.

  13. I am so sorry for the passing of your friend…. but I agree, FB has brought the world closer together. Now it doesn’t matter how many miles apart you are from someone, you can still feel as if you are just as much a part of their lives as ever. It’s a wonderful way for people to keep in touch, a way to share important information…… somepeople DO go overboard with it, but I wouldn’t want to give it up!

    • Holly, it’s so interesting how everything has positive and negative sides. And, if we keep our eyes open, we can see both aspects of something like FB. (And to be able to control ourselves if we see ourselves going overboard…I’m telling myself now…)

  14. May she RIP

  15. Comforting wishes to the family of the deceased. I know exactly what you mean. I friended (on fb) the people who adopted a dog we fostered. We were friendly with them for a while, and then lost touch, except for fb. I just learned the husband died last week. Since they live nearby, we went to the “celebration of life” party. I felt lucky to have found out through fb. Thanks for sharing this. Blessings to you.

    • Thank goodness for FB–that you found out about this and were able to attend the “Celebration of Life” party, Lori! Condolences to you and them…

  16. A lovely and sad post. I am so sorry about her death. I would imagine that she was fairly young, I am not into Facebook and I most likey will not go there. I just do not have time for it- blogging and photographing and animals keep me very busy.

    • Yes, this woman was young–in her 30′s. I’m not sure if I would recommend Facebook for everyone. It has some positive sides (like I wrote above) and some negative sides. It sounds like you don’t need this addition in your life. Thank you for stopping by.

  17. We are going through the passing of a wonderful woman well known here on Beaver Island as a friend to all. She babysat for my daughters when they were small. She has been in a hospice situation here for a few weeks, and died last evening. Through facebook, her friends and her children’s friends were able to send good wishes, prayers and thoughts, without intruding on the family’s time together. I agree that this is a wonderful thing about social media. Thanks, Kathy!

    • Cindy, blessings to this woman who babysit for your children. Don’t you feel that perhaps FB brings these people closer to us–they might not be our best friends–but they are people who have been in our lives. One of the positive benefits of social media. Thank you.

  18. I agree that FB has its pros and it has its cons. I think sometimes people post things that are more personal than the world needs to know – but then again, if those who are our friends, those that will hear our messages, are truly our friends, perhaps it’s okay. It seems that I see fewer of those things of late – perhaps the younger group, the ones who tend to show less contraints, have moved on to Twitter. In any case, as your example demonstrates, it is a good way to keep connected with people we might otherwise not hear from. I am sorry for the loss of your friend, but it sounds as if she fought the battle as hard as she could – after awhile, fighting can wear you out. I have found the blogging community to be very supportive, and I think the FB community would be the same. Best of wishes to your friend’s family.

    • Carol, that is so true about some people posting lots of personal things on FB. I sometimes ponder why we post the things we do. And everyone has such a different level of comfort about what to post–or what we want to hear. I have so loved the blogging community~~this has felt much more like a “home” community than FB. But FB seems to serve other avenues. I would have never felt connected with this young woman’s death without it.

  19. I have completely mixed feelings about FB, like most users probably do. It can certainly be a supportive community, and has allowed me to reach out to family members personally (I use the private messages) when I might have said nothing in the past. When my aunt passed away in the spring, we shared pictures of her and remembered stories as a family even though we are spread over many states. But, I sometimes feel like FB can be a vehicle for delivering trite platitudes, too. Even in something as serious as death, I feel like some folks learn of the death and feel compelled to leave a message that they may not have a deep connection to – much like the meaningless Happy Birthday posts – and that bothers me more than if they had said nothing. Perhaps I am too sensitive. It seems like you had a mostly positive experience, and I’m glad. May your FB community remain supportive.

    • Heather, I so agree with you. “Trite platitudes” describes that feeling which can happen on FB a lot. It’s sometimes hard to express–or hear–depth on Facebook. I have not always had positive experiences on FB, and have written a bit about my conflicted feelings. The community does not always feel supportive, and I have probably not always been supportive of the community. I expressed this positive outpouring about these women’s deaths because it highlighted incidences of support and connection.

  20. Hi Kathy,
    It’s always sad to hear of the death of people we know – regardless of how we find out. I have mixed feelings about technology and FB so all I can comment is, if it works for you, then it’s a good thing.
    Hugs
    SuZen

    • I’m not sure if you’ve read all my blog posts about my mixed feelings about FB, SuZen? Basically, it works Sometimes for me, and other times not as well. It seemed a good thing recently to celebrate the lives of these two women who died, since without FB I wouldn’t have done so publicly.

  21. A co-worker and friend died. For a long time I would go over and look at her and remember the good times; the long conversations; the trips through the countryside on beautiful fall or spring days; how we bought disliked the holidays. I was going to go see her during Christmas holidays, 2010, but she died and it was through FB that her family reached me to let me know.
    I rarely use FB because I am paranoid about my information; but for this death it was a blessing; perhaps it is so with others.

    • Linda, I am smiling a little softly and sadly thinking about you remembering the good times with your co-worker/friend. I am glad that people reached out to let you know that she died. It’s good when we can see both the challenges and blessings in so many things. Otherwise we tend to get black and white perspectives.

    • Thank you, LouAnn. I really didn’t know either of these women who died very well. I am sad for their families, but glad I had a chance to remember the little I knew about them.

  22. Very nice post of a very sad event!!

  23. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, Kathy.

    I discovered that a blogging friend had died – over a year ago (I’d not stayed in touch as I’d meant to do) – and I was just getting used to it when I saw her on Facebook and thought my mind had done something weird, then I remembered that when someone dies, Facebook closes the person’s account to new posts but keeps the account as a memorial. I don’t agree with that at all – I think that when a person dies, their account should be allowed to be closed. So – yeah, in a way a Facebook friend of mine died, but I’d not been in touch so maybe it’s not the same. I did know her on Facebook when I was first on the site, though.

    • I didn’t realize that about FB, Val–that it’s the company who is making the decision whether the account is kept open as a memorial or not. Hmmm…that’s a new factor to consider. I always wonder how and if we’d know if some of our blogging friends passed away. I’ve told K or B that they have to figure a way to come here and make an announcement to blog friends. It’s a strange world when we have to consider death beyond traditional obituaries or word of mouth, isn’t it?

  24. I had never thought about the impact Facebook might have in the event of death. So sorry to hear about your two friends, Kathy. But, it’s kind of cool the gifts technology can bring us. Imagine that once upon a time, there were no blogs. Amazing.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • I felt the positive benefits of technology, Kathy, with the passing of these two friends and the way it was possible to say “goodbye” on line. Can you remember a day before blogging, lol? By the way, someone just commented on my very first blog on livejournal in 2006!! It came in the email yesterday. Long after I’ve forgotten my livejournal password and login. (Luckily it was spam.)

  25. Kathy, I’m sorry for your loss. Your Facebook was a friend you had actually met in life and followed through illness. The Facebook friend I lost was someone I’d never met. I came to know him through his blog, and when he joined Facebook he put an invitation on his blog for people to friend him on Facebook. A lot of us did. Then one day, following his name, through his account, came the completely unexpected message from his brother that Peter had died. I wrote about it on my blog, as did many other bloggers. (Here’s my post: http://booksinnorthport.blogspot.com/2012/05/friend-ill-never-meet.html.) For many weeks, we friends of Peter continued to share and condole with his brother, and I am pretty certain it helped John. Peter’s death came as such a shock to me that I could hard imagine how it must have hit his brother.

    I am also Fb friends with children of my husband’s cousins, and trying to keep them all straight is difficult for me, but when one of David’s elderly cousins was in the hospital, or when someone was dying, or when, yes, one of the cousin’s daughters lost two of her children within a two-year period–during all those times it meant a lot to everyone to be in touch.

    So yes, while I do still prefer blogging to Facebook for sharing thoughts and ideas and experiences and stories, they are times when the immediacy of Facebook and the way everyone checks in and gets the word is irreplaceable.

    I also have a Fb friend who has been gone for almost two years, and she’s still on my list. Why would I take her off? I still have people in my address book who are no longer living, but I like seeing their names there.

    Hugs!

    • I completely skipped over responding to your comment the other day, Pamela. (But did read it~~and thought I had responded.) Your blog post about Peter was very lovely. Sweet and sad. I, too, so prefer blogging to FB for sharing, but it’s good to know that there is a place for that other kind of sharing.

  26. Beautiful blog – have been through something similar. Thanks Kathy.

  27. I’m sorry to hear that you lost a friend but glad you had a way to mourn her passing and share memories of her with her family and friends.

    While I have not yet lost a FB friend in this way, it might be the only way I would hear about their death, since we do not subscribe to a daily paper and its obituaries. Thanks for sharing your thought on this subject. :)

    • It’s a new world, Susan, beyond newspapers (and that’s not necessarily a good thing, since most of our income comes from Barry’s work at the newspaper). It felt like a timely subject to broach. Thank you.

  28. Sending you love at this time

  29. Kathy, I wish you lived here. You have things to teach me. Things you could explain to me over cups of tea/coffee … about the Universe.

    Yes. I did learn about a friend’s death over f.b. A vibrant, clever, fellow I’d worked with at my last job. He had moved on to a new job, gotten married and recently become a father. His life was evolving as it he wanted. And then suddenly he was dead. Entirely unexpected. He lived three provinces away. I went onto his f.b. page and left him a message. Even though he was gone. I knew he was gone. I left him a message.

    • That would be so wonderful, Sybil. And I’m sure there are some things YOU could teach me about the Universe, too, because the Universe doles everything out equally. As for that vibrant fellow~~it’s hard to believe that the vibrancy can be snuffed out just like that. I am glad you left him a message. The Universe just whispered that he received it.

  30. Hi Kat, I thought you stopped Facebook after that “Facebook, we’ve got issues.” Now I guess you’ve made peace with the Book. Anyway, it’s a new kind of freak to experience death of a friend on FB. The dilemma is, to delete or not to delete..

  31. I like the idea that Facebook activity and blog posts are left behind as a remembrance of a person on the one hand, while on the other hand it’s very sad when you know that they won’t be posting anymore. Although, as you mention, it’s a place where others may come together to honor them. It’s a tough call, I think, Kathy.

    • Marianne, a tough call indeed. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be one way or another. Perhaps sometimes it’s OK to be one away; sometimes another. And it’s OK for our hearts to react against or for it, too.

  32. I wanted to read and comment on this blog when I first saw it; but I was pulled away with pressing concerns. Coming up for air finally, as I liked the FB page for this blog this morning, I was reminded of it. We had a family friend. Her husband’s grandparents lived in a house in our valley, now owned by my husband’s cousins. His mother and her second husband (she married into the family that settled our valley in the 1800s) lived up the creek. When his mother died, she also was fighting against some nasty cancer but succumbed to liver failure rather unexpectedly, we walked up the dirt road that runs past our house, when we saw the funeral procession drive by, for the family cemetery is just up the road. This friend and his wife had moved halfway across the state. Her family was in that area. Her husband was often deployed in the Middle East with a business that has devices to protect troops from IEDs. My boys went swimming with their daughter, when we stopped at their farm for a visit on our way to the state fair one year. One Mother’s Day, he bought her a 3-wheeled motorcycle. There was a picture of that day on Facebook – a big bow on the windshield. Her and her daughter with helmets sitting proudly on that motorcycle. Only months later, I got the news; and I got the news, thanks to Facebook. She was riding that motorcycle during her lunch hour away from work on a brilliantly beautiful day and made an error in judgment on the curve of a road. It was a fatal mistake. He was overseas. I know so much about all of this, thanks to Facebook. We were able to “participate” in those difficult days for the family – thanks to Facebook. She still exists as a page in virtual reality – thanks to Facebook. Personally, I think this is a good thing. Thanks for writing about something totally new in human experience – thanks to Facebook.

    • Deb, thank you for sharing this story. How very sad this all happened, but lovely that everyone could participate through her the Facebook sharing. Otherwise, it might have been hard to fit together bits and pieces. This is a new phenomenon and probably both negative and positive, depending on so many circumstances. Thanks again.

  33. Sad but beautiful post, Kathy. I am sorry about the loss of your friend. *Hugs* I have not yet experienced a death via cyberspace, either through Facebook or blogging, but I can see how the community built online could be a big help (and experienced that when my mother was dying).

    • Robin, I don’t remembering knowing you that well when your mother was dying. When was that? So glad that you had an online community to embrace you at that time. **hugs, back**

      • I don’t think we knew each other then, Kathy. It was a surprising thing to me, being able to blog through the worst of it, and receiving so much love from people I didn’t even know (even lurkers came out to comment and bring comfort). There’s a lot of light and love out there. :)

  34. Marty and I are not on FB very often, but one of our friends passed away in a climbing accident a few years ago. Both of us kept him as our friend online for quite a while, but then it just felt wrong to have him there. He’s been deleted now– on Facebook, but obviously not in our hearts and spirits.

    • Somehow, Dana, that feels right. You kept him there for a while to honor him, and then you let him go. That sounds very fitting. Thank you for sharing that.

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