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Navigating Grief Online

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Navigating Grief Online

How to Announce a Death on Social Media & Memorialize a Facebook Page

Social media is where we share not only our joy and accomplishments but also our grief and loss. How we mourn and remember our loved ones has evolved to encompass the online spaces we inhabit, where we routinely share pieces of our lives with others. “As we increasingly live online, it’s only natural that we grieve online as well,” says Dr. Carla Sofka, professor of Social Work at Siena College and co-editor of “Dying, Death, and Grief in an Online Universe.”

Below is a guide to help you navigate how to announce a death on social media and how to memorialize a Facebook page.

Announcing a Death on Social Media

It’s important to approach announcing a death on Facebook or another online platform with the right tone, respect, and tact. Consider the experience of Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Facebook. When her husband, David Goldberg, unexpectedly passed away in 2015, she took to Facebook to share her grief and pain. Her post (read it here: was transparent, evoking empathy and demonstrating the power of respectfully sharing grief online. Consider these six steps when you announce a death online:

    1. CONFIRM WITH IMMEDIATE FAMILY: It’s important to wait for the family to officially announce the person’s death before making any comments or posts. If you are a family member posting, make sure that as many close family members and friends are informed as possible before you post to give them the space to process the information in private.

    2. TIMING IS KEY: Give yourself and your immediate family enough time to process the loss before sharing the news publicly. Elaine Kasket, psychologist and author of “All the Ghosts in the Machine: The Digital Afterlife of Your Personal Data,” says, “It’s important to give people time to absorb the news privately before they see it being discussed publicly.” Social activist Tamanna Miah agrees in “A guide to Facebook etiquette” by Rachel Thompson in Mashable. Miah found out via Facebook that her best friend had died. “It was awful waking up to it first thing, seeing the news on there, and seeing people bombard his Facebook and Twitter with comments, photos, and messages.”

    3. BE MINDFUL OF PRIVACY: When Claire Bellerjeau, an author and historian from New York, posted about the death of a close friend, she was mindful of how much personal information she was sharing. “I felt it was important to honor my friend’s life without revealing too much private information. I shared about her life, her kindness, and how much she’ll be missed, but avoided mentioning any intimate details.” Grief management specialist Darcie Sims says, “Remember that once something is on the internet, it stays there. It’s essential to respect the privacy of the deceased and their family.”

    4. DRAFT A SENSITIVE, RESPECTFUL POST: Sandberg’s death announcement was respectful, considerate, and empathetic. Sheryl reflected on the deep loss she and her children felt and the wonderful memories they had of David. And what it is like to live in their new reality.

    5. INVITE CONDOLENCES: Invite people to share their memories, condolences, or thoughts. Doing so creates a sense of community in the grieving process, making the ordeal less isolating. “One of the things my favorite author and speaker, David Kessler, says is that grief needs to be witnessed to be healed,” says Liz Kelly, LCSW, a therapist at Talkspace. “When we post on Instagram or Facebook about our loved ones who died, we’re allowing other people to be able to witness our grief.”

    6. MONITOR THE POST: People will react and respond in different ways. Be prepared to handle inappropriate comments and thank those who offer their condolences.

“I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others. . .I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer,” wrote Sandberg after her husband's death. She continued, “Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.”

Transforming a Facebook Page into a Memorial

Remembering in the Digital World

When someone we love passes away, the digital footprint they leave behind can serve as a poignant reminder of their life. Facebook recognizes this and allows for the creation of memorialized accounts.

  1. FACEBOOK’S MEMORIALIZATION PROCESS: When an account is memorialized, it’s secured, and sensitive information like contact details are removed. According to Facebook’s Help Center, “Memorialized accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away.”

  2. REQUEST FOR MEMORIALIZATION: A special request must be made to Facebook by filling out a Memorialization Request to memorialize an account.

  3. YOU’LL NEED DOCUMENTATION: Facebook requires proof that your loved one has passed away, such as a death certificate or obituary. They may also ask for proof of your relationship to the deceased.

  4. CHOOSING A LEGACY CONTACT: Facebook allows users to choose a ‘Legacy Contact’ who can manage their memorialized account.

Our digital presence has become an extension of our lives, and it continues even after we’re gone. Social media can be a powerful tool to notify others of the death of a loved one and to commemorate their life.

by Carrie Phelps-Campbell, Sunset Contributor

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