Social Media in the Wake of Death: A Guide to Grieving in Public

Social media has made it incredibly easy – and incredibly hard – to announce a recent death. The various platforms and public nature of this medium can overwhelm anyone in the days following a death. To assist, Mapalife has developed a guide to grieving on social media.

A Guide to Grieving in Public

One of the hardest things to do after a death is to repeatedly rehash the details of a loved one’s death to family and friends. In some cases, you are still getting over the shock and can be in that initial state of disbelief. One way to help with this immense responsibility is to nominate a family member or friend who is willing to take on the role of communicating the death.

But after the initial shock has worn off and family and friends have been notified, you may still feel the need to express how important this person was to you. One way to commemorate them is to give a speech at the funeral, or perform an act of love in other funeral preparations. However, if speech-giving isn’t your thing, or if you still feel the need to profess your love and grief to the public, social media is a natural choice in which to do so.

Most commonly, people will turn to Facebook as a way to announce a death and the consequent grief to their network of friends and family. And while there is really no explicit right or wrong way to go about expressing your grief on social media, there is a general Etiquette to follow that will allow you to express your grief in a healthy way.

There are also a number of online tools you can use to memorialize your loved one. Prior to social media, a death was announced through an obituary in the local newspaper. While this is still common practice, most families also choose to produce an online memorial to announce funeral arrangements and allow people to send condolences.

Below is a guide where we recommend best practice when announcing a death online. We have also included tips and resources for when you find yourself at a loss for words.

Online best practices when a death is in your family:

The Obituary
  • Designate a family member or close family friend to write the obituary. For references on how to write the perfect obituary for your loved one, check out this article: Guide to Writing an Obituary on Legacy.com.
  • Contact your local newspaper for information on word count and rates. Typically, the longer the obituary, the more you will pay. You will also want to ask if the obituary will be posted online.
  • If your funeral home does not mention the obituary, ask if they have an online website in which you can post one. Some funeral homes will have this built into the cost of the funeral arrangements. The written obituary can also be used as a handout at the funeral.
The Online Memorial
  • Ask your funeral home what online memorial website they are partnered with. Some host the memorial on their own site, while others will have the memorial hosted on another site.
  • If you are making alternative arrangements, or not working with a funeral home that offers an online memorial service, you may want to consider posting the obituary on a memorial website yourself.
    • Online memorials are easily shared and communicated with family and friends who are looking for details on the funeral arrangements. Most also offer the opportunity for comments from family and friends.
    • Each memorial site is unique from the rest. Some provide services at no cost and others provide extra services for a nominal fee or subscription. Before providing your credit card for any online service or subscription be sure to read the terms and conditions of the website.
Facebook
    • Prior to posting to any social media outlet about the death of a loved one, be sure that your immediate family and close friends have heard the news in person or over the phone before posting. The days following a death are hard enough, no need for added stress and hurt feelings to be included.
      • Write the post, re-read, save it, and walk away. Post the next day or later that day. Having someone else proofread the post is always a good idea too. Sometimes coming back to something you’ve written can provide a fresh perspective, or you might trigger an old memory you want to include. You will be under a lot of emotional stress at this time and you will thank yourself later by not rushing into your post.
      • Pro tip: Write your post in a word processor prior to posting to social media. Not sure what to say? Check out this article when the words are hard to find. 
      • Pro tip: Including pictures and/or video can help people connect your words to your loved one. If you can’t decide on the right photo or don’t have a way to quickly upload, you can always post an image or quote. Choose the perfect picture for your post here
    • While there is no defined time frame for this, most people choose to announce a death either a few days before or on the day of the funeral. Posting a few days ahead can provide distant friends and family the opportunity to make arrangements if they wish to do so. However, the above advice still stands of making sure the people who need to know first have been notified.
Other Social Media Outlets
  • Instagram
    • Your post will need to include a picture. You can choose a picture of your loved one or a meaningful quote or landscape. Find pictures to post here
    • You will want to follow the same advice as a Facebook post when it comes to when and what to write. See above for further detail.
    • Hashtags on Instagram and other social media outlets will allow people to search and find the post using that hashtag. On a memorial post you want to keep more private, you may opt not to include hashtags.
    • Like Facebook, you can also tag people in the post. To make it easier for friends and family to find, you may choose to tag them in the post.
    • Finally, you can post your Instagram post straight to Facebook to allow loved ones on both social media outlets to see the same post.
  • Twitter
    • This form of social media is more limited in terms of length of your post. However, you can link to a longer post on a personal blog, or other form of online media.
    • If you have a large Twitter following, or are a public figure, you may find a Twitter post convenient to quickly reach your Twitter followers.
  • Personal Blog
    • If you have a personal blog as a business, or just as a way to keep in touch with people, this is a great tool to relay your grief and pay tribute to the recent loss of a loved one.
Online Fundraising
  • Sometimes financial hardship can affect a family who has just experienced a loss. This can leave them unable to pay for the cost at the funeral home. Online fundraising can be a tool to reach out to people who are willing an able to donate to a funeral. 
  • Pro tip: Be honest and transparent about your need. People want to help and are generous when the need is genuine.
  • Pro tip: Be wary of site fees and rules. Some take a percentage or have a one-time fee for use of the site.  

Etiquette when you see an online post about a death:

  • Be respectful above all.
    • On Facebook, try not to “like” the post, but opt to comment and leave a polite condolence.
    • Unless given permission from the family, it is not recommended to share the news to your own social media feed.
    • If it is a close friend or acquaintance, you can reach out to the family by text or call, but don’t expect them to reply right away – or at all, especially right after a death. Typical etiquette is to reach out and offer help where they need it. Usually, providing cooked meals and gift certificates can be a huge help to families in the time shortly after a death.

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