Social Media Obituaries

Typically, I blog about digital businesses and how social media has impacted the wedding industry. Today, however, I want to blog about something more personal. This past Sunday, my grandmother passed away. She was a wonderful woman who was hilarious and had an impeccable taste in fashion. She was a large part of my life and in the recent months I was able to go play bingo with her at her nursing home and enjoy our remaining time together as the sand slowly ran out of her hourglass after 86 years. It was hard to believe that someone who was so important to me was gone. However, it was not until after I posted on Instagram a photo of us as well as a caption just saying that I will miss her and love her always that I really felt I was able to move on. I was surprised to see that social media was actually able to serve as an outlet for me and a source of comfort during a difficult time.

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Grief therapist Lisa Leonard stated in a recent interview that individuals often find it cathartic to express their mourning on social media. Author Julie Spira even refers to the online postings of deaths as “social media obituaries.” While there is a lot of controversy surrounding “netiquette,” as Spira refers to it, there is just as much controversy surrounding the mourning process in real life as grieving practices vary from culture to culture. Either way, for me the ability to create a social media obituary felt appropriate and was interesting to see how it seemed to finalize a chapter for me that I didn’t know how to otherwise close in my life.

There are a lot of people who I wanted to inform of my acceptance into college, my first job offer, or even my grandmother’s death. I needed the support of these people, but it would be weird for me to shoot someone an unsolicited text with whom I have not spoken in a while that says “Got into college. Wanted to let you know,” or “My grandmother passed away. Felt like telling someone and could use just some kind words.” Those kinds of text don’t really happen – they would seem awkward and a bit random. Yet it has become socially acceptable to broadcast important events on social media for all to see. I think this is ok. I was happy that I was able to reach out and direct message an old college friend of mine when her father passed away, just to let her know I truly was thinking about her and her family. She messaged me back, saying that she really appreciated hearing from me and it meant a lot. In situations like that, I felt comfortable reaching out to comfort someone whose address I may have lost over the years and wasn’t close enough with to call up to offer my condolences. Sure, a direct message takes less time than sending flowers or a card, but it is more accessible and is still a genuine gesture that means more than just receiving “likes” under an old photograph.

obituary image

A major topic of discussion surrounding social media is how people post polished photographs that are glimpses into their lives that are romanticized, perfected and literally enhanced with filters. A person will post a picture-perfect engagement shot of herself and her fiancé on Instagram so that everyone can be happy for them and to share the news. With the death of a loved one, it’s nice to be able to post one of your favorite pictures as well as a few sentimental lines about how much they will be missed. In a sense, it creates a memory of the deceased that is perfected – enhanced, cropped and essentially tied up with a perfect, neat bow and then presented outwardly towards the community. It is a special experience to be able to say, “Look at my grandmother. She was so cute and meant a lot to me. I want her life to just be commemorated for a few seconds, even if she will never actually see the post.” MIT professor, Sherry Turkle stated that, “We have come to believe that our experiences are not validated unless we have shared them.” Perhaps posting on social media also helped me to come to terms with the news before I was able to move on.

“We have come to believe that our experiences are not validated unless we have shared them.” – Sherry Turkle, MIT

In essence, an Instagram or Facebook post announcing the death of a loved one is no different than a formal obituary in the newspaper. In fact, I think it is better as it is not closed off in a morbid section devoted just to death. It is incorporating the memory of someone’s life into every day content that is posted, mixing it in with joyous posts about weddings, birth announcements, and other natural parts of life. So thank you, Instagram, for allowing me to share the news of my grandmother’s death but more importantly the memory of someone who was so important to me with all those with whom I have chosen to be social media friends, creating a supportive community surrounding me during a time that I needed it most.

10 comments

  1. First of all, I want to say I am very sorry to hear about your grandmother. I like how social media has become an outlet for mourning a loved one. I can relate to you saying that is has helped you grieve and how a social media post provides light on one’s life as opposed to being in a, “closed off section devoted just to death.” It is amazing to see friends and family, some of whom you have gone a long time without communicating with, provide support in a time of need. Social media has allowed us to bond in countless ways but in situations such as this, it provides a community to be in touch with when it is needed most.

  2. Wow, what a powerful post! I am so terribly sorry for your loss! I like how you framed the fact that posting a perfected photo of someone who has passed away allows one to broadcast one last special and beautiful picture to commemorate together with others. And I agree that it allows one to incorporate a loved one’s memory into other important life moments that appear in the feed – after all, life is not always about the good things, and social media is a reflection of our life, even if we try to make it look more perfect. I am happy to hear that posting the photo brought you some relief, as I can only imagine how it feels to deal with a loss of loved one. Extending a big virtual hug to you!

  3. This was the most touching post I’ve read all year. I’m sorry to hear about the passing of your grandmother, but I’m glad you found a sense of comfort and closure through your post on Instagram. I think its great that social media has made it easier for people to reach out to friends and acquaintances after the passing of a loved one, if even just to like or leave a brief comment. This post reminds me of a few friends of mine who passed away, and how their families maintain their social media accounts as a way of keeping their memory alive.

  4. Thank you for your post. I agree, social media can certainly be a better atmosphere to share the news than through a newspaper announcement. And I am glad to hear that social media has enabled you to better cherish the memory of a person you loved, and that it has also helped provide a community that has supported you through this time.

  5. Thank you so much for this post, and I am very sorry to hear about your grandmother. I used to be skeptical of people who uploaded personal posts, but now I understand the true value it can have, especially to help mourning a loved one, so thank your for helping me see this. I also agree that social media can be better than obituaries in newspapers because 1. most of the people you know are not reading newspapers everyday and 2. if they are, they’re probably not spending much time in the obituaries section. When you post something for any occasion in your life, it feels good to receive likes and comments, so I’m glad to hear that it can help provide support when losing someone very close to you. Thanks again for sharing!

  6. So sorry for your loss! This post is very strong and really ties into this current, real life experience that you are facing. I agree with all of this – I also find that being able to “broadcast” moments of life like this (happy or sad) is better than the awkward or painful process of having to notify individuals. Someone that I knew from a camp I used to work at recently passed away, and I found social media really tying together people that knew her, and creating an online forum to not only let people know, but to also bring people together to grieve, and put their sadness to positive change by donating to a charity in her name. (I might blog on this topic next week!). I would never have really thought of social media and death being a positive connection, but it really allows people to share their emotions, as you did on Instagram. Thanks for this post!

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss, it seems like your grandmother was a really special woman. A post to commemorate her life seems more than appropriate. I like that you point out how social media is an acceptable medium to inform people in your life who you care about yet hadn’t spoken to in a while about life events–whether they are exciting like college acceptances or emotional like a death in the family. It also translates into real life as well–acquaintances will already understand you’re mourning and can provide emotional support without inappropriately and awkwardly asking why you’ve seemed “off” lately.

  8. Thank you for sharing this story and I’m very sorry for your loss; I lost my grandfather recently as well and I can really feel your pain. Even though I feel comfortable sharing parts of my life on social media, for some reason I’ve chosen to tell only a select few people about this experience. Perhaps it’s because it was my first time losing a family member, and maybe this is why I haven’t yet been feeling that I could move on from the sadness. Your post has inspired me to look for ways to express and share my thoughts, as one should especially in a difficult time like this. It’s amazing to find that social media and our relationship with it has changed how the human experience takes place, and I’m definitely grateful that we have such an easy access to an outlet for expression.

  9. Great post. I do confess that social media and death is a topic that has long fascinated me. It’s interesting to see how people respond to a death announcement, but then its also interesting to see how those reactions change over time. I had a college friend pass away, and every year on her birthday, her fiancee and mom came by her FB page to share thoughts… like visiting the grave.

    Update: The visits to her page are still ongoing, 8 years later.

  10. Thank you for sharing. I think your point about having a space for positive memorial versus morbid obituary struck a cord. There is something therapeutic about sharing memories and in doing so expressing the emotions you’re feeling at the time and then getting immediate support from friends online. When my grandma passed away it was the first time I really lost someone close to me so I didn’t know what to do but sharing a brief memory through a post felt natural and cathartic. We don’t all get asked to give a eulogy but social media gives us all an outlet to express those feelings and thoughts. Great post.

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