Grief and Social Media: What To Know

Updated

Grief is an individual's natural response to a significant loss in life. Generally, grieving is associated with the death of a loved one or another equally devastating setback. The way the grieving process manifests in individuals is very personal and often internal. Not until grieving turns into mourning does a bereaved person show the outside world how they're coping with their feelings and emotions resulting from their loss. 

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Grief and social media have become synonymous with online support groups, crowdfunding for funeral expenses, and other survivor benefits. Grieving individuals now seem to turn to online social networks for added comfort and support, more so than they do their friends and close relatives.

Finding others who share similar losses is as easy as typing in a specific type of loss on Google or a specific social media platform. In many cases, you may end up with dozens of results such as personal blogs, grief support groups, and unique chat rooms to engage with people.

Why Do People Post About Their Grief on Social Media?

Social networking sites like Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram provide relatively safe outlets for grieving individuals to share their pain and suffering with other members of their online communities. The internet has changed how the world connects with others and how they express themselves through their grief and many different aspects of their daily lives.

Grieving persons sometimes live a very lonely and isolated existence. They may turn to their social media groups for added comfort and support and regain a sense of belonging. 

Because heartbreak can feel painful, isolating, and depressing, turning to online resources can help one cope with the overwhelming emotional responses to loss. Sharing the experience with others is a part of the mourning process for many people.

The use of social media to express grief is another form of more traditional death rituals which provide grieving individuals with a unique outlet for their pain and suffering. Posting about heartache and loss on social media is a modern form of grief expression. 

How Do People Typically Express Grief on Social Media?

Expressions of grief on social media are as varied as those who post about their losses on the internet. Mourners sometimes express their bereavement-related distress as direct solicitations for sympathy and support from their online communities. Bereaved individuals may post about a recent and tragic loss they've experienced to elicit sympathy from others.

Given how wide someone’s social media network may be, some members may not have personally known the person who died. It's not unusual to find that someone has posted an entire essay about their relationship with the deceased, how they shaped their life, and what their death means to them. 

Some people will post online eulogies honoring their loved ones or hold virtual memorial services by creating a page specifically to encourage others to leave their condolences. Crowdsourcing fundraisers are also a common approach to expressing grief while helping survivors meet the financial burdens of their loved one's final expenses.

Grief is also expressed in postings about the negative aspects of certain situations leading up to their loved one's death or how the tragedy happened. Suppose their loved one died due to negligence, crime, or an unfortunate accident. In that case, a person may post rants online about the unfairness of the situation or their displeasure with the treatment their loved one received at a hospital or long-term care facility.

Are There Any Unwritten Rules or Etiquette for Posting About Grief on Social Media?

Online condolence etiquette calls for community members to acknowledge death notices as they get posted on their followers' accounts. Leaving a short but sincere condolence message is normal if you regularly interact with a person or their social media account. Posting on a bereaved individual's timeline shows the people you follow in your online social circles that you are a person who cares about others.

A simple "Sorry for your loss" message in the public comments may be enough for casual online friendships. Don't overthink what you need to say, and keep things simple. For persons you know on a deeper level, send a private message or call them directly.

Modern etiquette rules for death notices no longer require or expect you to reach out to anyone outside of social media. Younger generations might even consider it rude for you to call them on the phone instead of simply sending a text message. 

The internet gives you much more slack on what you post due to your grief and loss if you are the bereaved. Your online community may rally around you in support and overlook any etiquette breaches. It's safe to assume that you can stay true to your experience when sharing how you feel in your posts when you're grieving.

Is it Okay If You Don’t Want to Post About a Loved One’s Death on Social Media?

Openly mourning the death of a loved one on social media isn't for everyone. The individualized experience of grief differs from one person to another, and no two people will ever grieve the same way. Although virtual grieving has become a mainstay in sharing news and publicly mourning specific losses, some individuals still prefer to keep their news private.

If you're not ready to merge your real life with your online presence, that's okay. You can still go the traditional route by calling your friends and loved ones to give them the news, or you can visit them in person whenever it makes more sense to do so. 

There’s particular ease in sharing news online that most people are now comfortable and familiar with, but this doesn't mean that it's the right fit for everyone. One crucial consideration in posting about death online is that it prolongs the grieving period.

As the news quickly makes its rounds through social circles, you can expect to receive condolence messages for weeks, even months, after the tragedy. Those who want to work through the grief and move past their pain and suffering may find that online social media posts may keep the wound fresh.

Tips for Posting About Grief on Social Media

Social media has changed how the world shares information and communicates their grief after a significant loss. It’s altered the way we relate to one another following the death of a loved one, how we grieve, and how we seek out grief support.

Posting in your newsfeed about the loss of a loved one will almost certainly generate a lot of sympathy from your online community. Although these messages can help uplift you, they can also quickly become overwhelming. The following are some tips on what to say on Facebook after a death and how to react to negative or unwelcome comments from online trolls.

Tip 1: Decide your motivation

Grief is a shared experience you can have both online and in real life. Consider your motivation before posting anything online about your loss or how you’re coping with your sorrow. Ask yourself the following questions before deciding on posting anything publicly:

  • What’s my purpose and intent in sharing the news with my online friends?
  • How much do I want to let others in on what’s going on in my private life?
  • Am I seeking validation or support from virtual strangers that I can’t get in real life?

Tip 2: Know that online posts last forever

Everything you post online remains there forever. Once you send the news out, there’s no recalling it, even if you have a change of heart later on. Getting initial messages of support may feel comforting at first, but when you’re working through your grief, you may find your followers’ responses overwhelming.

If you aren’t mentally or emotionally prepared to deal with responding to online condolences, and you’ve already posted your news to your profile or groups, either remove the post from your feed or have a trusted friend take over responding to well-wishers.

Tip 3: Assess your need for interaction

In the traditional sense of grieving, people share their condolences at a funeral or wake. After this initial mourning phase however, the suffering individual is left to grieve independently. social media provides for ongoing and continuous support from online followers.

Consider your need for continued interaction after you’ve had an opportunity to process your loss. You may find that excessive online exchanges with virtual strangers serve to deepen your loss. In this case, you may need to disconnect to have the needed time to be alone with your grief long enough to process it. 

How Can You Respond to Grief and Mourning on Social Media?

Remember that you’re in control of what and whom you interact with and what you choose to respond to online. If you’re the one in mourning, you control the narrative of how you react to your grief in the public eye. Whenever you come across a post where someone else is sharing the news of their loss, you can choose to either scroll past it or leave a brief but sincere comment.

Not everyone feels comfortable offering online condolences out of fear of not knowing what to say or not knowing the grieving person well enough to offer added support. You have no obligation to respond or post anything in response to their news.

Most social media platforms give you the option of “liking” a post without interacting beyond that. You can also consider sending a GIF with a condolence message like a dove or flickering white candle. Here are some additional steps to consider. 

Step 1: Consider the relationship

You won't need to respond to every post about someone's loved one dying, but if you know the person well enough or they’re related to you, you may want to extend a personal offer of support. Consider a public acknowledgment of their loss for close personal relationships followed by a private message or phone call to family members. Your loved one may not feel up to responding to anyone directly, so don't take offense if you don’t receive any response or a short one. 

Step 2: Show empathy 

How anyone copes with loss is a personal journey and doesn't require that a grieving individual lend attention to anyone posting their condolences on their timeline or feed. This moment is for the bereaved to register their loss and to learn how to deal with no longer having their loved one in their life.

Generally, people who share their grief with their online communities seek encouragement and added support to help them cope. When choosing to respond, be courteous, brief, and empathetic. If you are unsure of how to start, there are sample condolence messages online to guide you in a particular circumstance.  

Step 3: Acknowledge their grief

When it comes to your online friends, you may never know exactly where your place is in their lives. Where you might think that you’re a small or insignificant player in someone’s existence, they may think of you as much more than what you realize.

Before dismissing someone’s post about the death of a loved one, reconsider the impact your lack of response may make on your online friend. There are so many ways you can respond to someone’s grief or mourning without making it more uncomfortable for you than what it might already be. Try any of the following ideas for easy ways to let someone know you’re thinking of them:

  • Leave a shared memory on an online memorial
  • Donate to their crowdfunding campaign
  • Send virtual flowers or an e-card
  • Say something nice about their loved one
  • Leave an uplifting comment

Is Responding to Someone’s Loss on Social Media Enough?

Social media responses to news of death are almost always enough in today’s day and age. Society has shifted in how it responds to grief and the announcements of someone dying. In the past, it was common for bad news to spread from one person to the next via telephone or in person.

However, as more and more people turn to social media platforms as their primary form of communication, this mode of communication is now the standard, especially in younger generations. The internet and social media are the new way of coping with grief and loss. 

Getting used to the idea of leaving a social media message may be difficult for you if you’re not used to sharing your life online. But trust that this is where grief and mourning have evolved, and it’s no longer necessary to do much more than respond to online news with an online message.

When it comes to close friends and family, it’s still appropriate to follow up with a more personal approach. You can ask about funeral arrangements, wakes, or memorial services and either attend in person or send a sympathy gift or flowers. 

How the Internet Has Changed How We Grieve

Online mourning rituals continue to take shape with the introduction of new technologies, social platforms, and ways people communicate in the virtual world. Expressing grief through social media is here to stay until different approaches to communication and community evolve along with new online platforms. For now, social media provides a reprieve from grief for millions of people worldwide who look for grief support among their online peers.

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