Dear Miss A,
I’m on the road and can’t really write this up the way I want to but here is one that I could use some advice on and perhaps you can relate a bit. I joined Facebook in 2007 and have a lot of friends and fans (likes) I’ve never met, but feel very connected to via Facebook interaction. Lots of people comment daily or weekly on and off, and exchange commentary on my posts or status. For three years, one guy in particular always engaged me and other friends/fans by commenting, and asking questions about living green & healthy, which is what my business does. A few weeks ago his wife posted that he’d passed away that morning. I was shocked and strangely sad for about 10 minutes. It was so odd because this was a “friend,” but not really? I felt sad, yet disconnected, and not sad at the same time, which of course made me feel both guilty and not guilty at the same time. I do notice and miss that his comments and witty replies are no longer coming sometimes – but it seems just as life does, Facebook goes on never missing a beat. How do we deal with the death of a social media friend you never met but interacted with for 3 years?
Missing a Facebook Friend
Dear Missing a Facebook Friend,
Thank you so much for writing in about this. Kate Bolick wrote about a similar experience in her article, “A Death on Facebook” for The Atlantic. I had a similar experience months ago myself. An acquaintance from Junior High who I had reconnected with on Facebook passed away. She had battled cancer for years, and was such a sweet, thoughtful soul. I was really enjoying our new friendship on Facebook and strangely got closer to her via the internet than we ever did when we were in school together. Her husband posted on her Facebook page about her death, and soon the page was flooded with emotion, eulogies and memories when she passed. I cried, and felt sad about her death, the suffering of the husband and children she left behind, and also that I had missed the opportunity to have gotten to know her better in “real life” during Junior High. My loss was of a Facebook friend I knew in “real life” as an acquaintance, but I’m sure that the death of a virtual friend on Facebook would be just as difficult. I hardly knew her in school and hadn’t seen this woman for over 20 years.
It’s odd, but a Facebook friend can be a better, more thoughtful, more interesting and entertaining friend than some “real life” friends. I don’t know if this means I have really awesome Facebook friends, or could use some new “real life” friends. A friend of mine once posted on Facebook, “Facebook is to a social life what reality television is to reality.” With so many people saying reality TV isn’t real, I guess this comment is to say that having a social life online isn’t as real as having a social life out and about in your city. I’m not so sure. With all the superficial, shallow conversations going on at parties, I don’t think that you can say that a “Facebook social life” is less real. I’ve had great in depth political or moral debates on Facebook that you’d be hard pressed to have at any cocktail party in town. I’ve also received uplifting words of encouragement and support that have meant a lot to me from Facebook friends. The right words when you need them are a blessing whether they are given through email, a comment on Facebook, text message, Skype, phone call, or in-person. When I’m up working at 3 am, I have Facebook friends who are night owls working hard at odd hours like me who give me a much needed break. I’m not sure that real life friends would appreciate my calling them at 3am for a chat. I think we need to stop discounting our Facebook friendships. They can enrich our lives as much as “real life” friends. These are real people. It’s not like Facebook is a computer game that sends messages from robots. In America’s transient mobile society where friends and family are scattered across the country, or even the globe, we shouldn’t discount our Facebook friends who were once “real life” friends, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, roommates, or sorority sisters. And we shouldn’t discount our new friends who we’ve met virtually through friends, or shared interests. When a Facebook friend dies, we shouldn’t feel weird about feeling sad about it.
Perhaps, someone will invent a Facebook funeral — something better than just posting on a page–where virtual friends can watch the funeral service, pay their respects and commiserate. Until then, here is what happens when someone dies:
According to Skuggen.com, here is what options you have when someone you love passes away:
Facebook will memorialize the person’s profile so that:
- Only approved friends can view your profile
- Only approved friends can leave messages in the profile
- The deceased does not appear under “Suggestions”
– Miss A