Joseph S. Wadas, bereavement coordinator and chaplain for Compassus – Savannah, cautions that the internet can’t replace real human interaction.
The digital world is having a profound impact on how we grieve.
There is a paradox in the digital world. Social media connects people with each other like never before. It helps our natural desire to grieve together, to share memories and stories and to talk through our loss.
However, at the same time, the digital world is a virtual one. This virtual experience does not take the place of real human interaction.
Many people who share their grief online find themselves watching for reaction to the post. Does the post draw much attention in terms of likes, shares or comments? If not, does this mean that the deceased or bereaved are not popular? What exactly does it mean to “like” a death announcement? Feelings can easily get hurt when real-life friends fail to acknowledge the loss or comment online.
This is definitely a brave new world. Some general guidelines can help navigate these treacherous waters:
- Before posting anything online, make sure that all immediate family and important friends have been notified first. While social media can be an efficient tool to share information, it can be incredibly jarring for people close to the deceased to learn of the death via the internet.
- Creating a memorial page can also be a beneficial tool, connecting the bereaved to each other and even to the deceased. However, these pages can also become detrimental to the healing process. They may encourage the bereaved to hold on in an unhealthy way and never let go. This, then, becomes a festering wound, which is never allowed to heal.
- Give some consideration to how much you are comfortable sharing publicly. Public posts can invite questions and comments. Before you post, consider your comfort level and how much you want to share.
- In offering condolences and support, be careful about word choice. Avoid cliché comments such as, “I know how you feel because I lost my mother, too.” The best response is one that is sincerely attentive to the needs of the bereaved.
- Remember that the virtual world is no substitute for the real world. If we are supporting the bereaved, we should personally reach out to them long after the announcement has moved off the newsfeed.
This article originally appeared in Everyday Compassion magazine. To browse full issues of the magazine, click here.