RIP Courtesy and Discretion

by admin on August 14, 2012

My grandmother passed away late last night after a lengthy illness that got progressively worse in the last several months. We all knew it was coming. I hate saying that, but the whole of our very large family just knew she wasn’t going to make it til the end of summer. She celebrated her 95th birthday earlier this year, and had a happy life full of 9 kids, a bunch of grand children, and even a few great grand children and great great grandchildren.

Now, because the family is so large, and because we are spread out over several different states, news of any kind often takes some time to trickle through all the branches of the family tree. Today, social media complicated things. I don’t mind Facebook. It’s a great way to keep in touch with my family who lives in different states, and see pictures that I might not get to see otherwise. But while I was waiting for my ride to work this morning, I happened to check Facebook on my phone. The first thing that popped up was a status from a cousin saying something to the effect of “Rest in Peace Grandma”. Yes, that’s right, I found out my grandmother died via Facebook. The whole situation was further complicated by the fact that my aunt called me to get some details about the obituary, and when she mentioned my mother, she made it sound like my mother knew. I then called my mother to find out if there was anything else I needed to know. Well, as it turns out, my mother didn’t know. I wound up being the one who informed my mother that her own mother had died. All because of Facebook. I feel awful, and as much as I love my cousins and aunts and all of that, I wish all of them would have recognized that news doesn’t always move so fast, and that Facebook really isn’t the best way to find out. 0813-12

Yes, I encountered the same thing last year.   I was perusing Facebook on an early Sunday afternoon and noticed a friend’s status said, “Praying for (wife, three kids) in their time of mourning.”   Well, that was cryptic.   I called her and found out that the father of this family had died suddenly and very unexpectedly of a heart attack right after church.  I suggested she take down her Facebook status since that was not information she was privileged to publicly share and she did.  It turns out the minor aged children of the deceased had not yet been told that their father had died and had they found out via Facebook, this would have been tragic.

There is a reason why police departments or the military do not release the names of the deceased until family has been notified.   It is profoundly wrong to know that information before the family and release that information without family consent.   But in any community or circle of friends there are always those who race to be the first to share news and get the drama started.   There is no compelling reason I can think of for the need to splat one’s guts in a Facebook status about your personal grief.   Memorials honoring the deceased can wait a day or two and are quite suitable for posting the day of the funeral.

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

Margaret August 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm

After my father died, my mother became ill with several medical problems which landed her in the hospital and then a nursing home. One of my male cousins posted on his wall “Pray for my Aunt Mabel, she is ill with such and such, etc.” I was annoyed for a few reasons:

1. I didn’t consider it his news.
2. My immediate family never posted that kind of thing. If we shared medical news, etc., on FB, it was by private message.
3. I didn’t want to see postings about mom’s worsening dementia out in the open either. I think that kind of thing can be dangerous. People can figure out when a house is empty or when someone is vulnerable.

I didn’t tell my cousin I was annoyed but I told his sisters some new news by private message and requested that they not post about it on FB. I love my cousins and I know the offending cousin meant well. However, the ‘pray for” posts stopped – his sisters can be kinda scary and I knew they would tell their brother to be more circumspect.

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Elle August 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Blame whoever dropped the ball on letting OP’s mom know that her mother had passed. *That’s* the heinous part of this story.

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Roslyn August 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I’m not a user of FaceBook, however I have experienced just this, and I thought I was alone in my outrage. My mother lives by her email and that is how she connects with her hen friends. She sent out a GENERAL email to her entire address book and it had an old email address of mine. It just so happened that two weeks later my husband was doing some cleaning up on an old computer and it was linked to that email. He JUST HAPPENED to open it and see the email from my mother stating one sentence along the fact, “My mother died last night.” and that was it.

I knew that my Grandmother was old (92), and that things weren’t looking good, but to find out that way, so far after the fact made everything far worse. She did the same thing with her own siblings, and her younger sister didn’t have that old email so she didn’t find out AT ALL until MONTHS later in a casual phone conversation with her other sister.

I have had discussions with my Aunt, and we have decided to stay in touch, because my mother will never tell me anything unless it’s in an email.

And then there is my Grandmother’s Memorial Service, that’s an eHell story in itself…………

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Jones August 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Then there’s my family…who is probably driving all this. If it weren’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t know anything going on. I missed last year’s family barbeque because no one called me, I missed out on my aunt’s wedding because no one mailed an invitation or called me (it was an informal affair and the invites were a group effort). I have been punctual to every event listed on FB, prayed for Gramma during her surgeries (announced via FB), and printed pictures of my kids taken by my mother and posted on FB, as she isn’t the best when it comes to printing or making a CD and mailing them to me.

I won’t be surprised if I find out about a family death via FB, and definitely prefer that to waiting 6-8 weeks until I see my mother again and play catch up (she’s phone phobic but OK with online media). But I can see how other people would struggle with that particular media announcement.

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Allison August 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm

When sharing the news to my family, by phone, that I was pregnant, I felt it necessary to tell every one of them, please dont post anything on FB, I want to wait until I am out of the first trimester. When the in-laws told the Irish family on their holiday trip, I was ok with this, but i had to reiterate again “Please dont post or congratulate us on FB, until we do”…I am glad I did, because I know my sister in law would have told everyone the instant we got off the phone. But it was my news and I deserved the right to tell FB whenever I wanted, I didnt even really want to, but felt I had to, to appease the masses.
I havent yet dealt with a death on facebook, but I would be very upset if I learnt of a close family members passing or illness through facebook.
I also find it strange that in times of personal grief people feel the need to share their pain immediately. To me its attention seeking, people just want to have 50 people comment on their status to validate their lives or something. That sounds harsh, but you see it everyday on facebook. Not just with death, but the ones who gush about how much they love their partner, or how amazing their children are, what a horrible day they’re having and how much their life sucks! It gets nauseating.

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Same here August 14, 2012 at 7:45 pm

My Grandfather passed away in January. My step grandmother was in the process of calling all his children to tell them to “come home” right away. As my Aunts and Uncles were making plans to go home, one of my aunts was on Facebook and noticed her step-sister’s Facebook Status, “RIP (Grandfather’s Name)”. Not a single one of his children knew, she didn’t seem to understand why everyone was a little chilly to her at the funeral.

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DogLover August 14, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I just don’t see how this is a Facebook issue. When someone know something and others don’t you are always at a risk that the information will leak unless you explicitly tell them not to tell. When my husband was going to propose, his grandmother asked to see my ring one day – before he proposed. I was luckily a little dense and didn’t get it so no surprise was spoiled. But obviously there had been a miscommunication to her. My husband hadn’t told her, but he had told his mom (her daughter). Facebook wasn’t even around then.

Likewise, if say a cousin knows something before the deceased son/daughter – they could easily tell them accidentally in a non-sensitive way. Facebook is just one of many ways this can happen.

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Waltzing Matilda August 15, 2012 at 12:19 am

[ I also find it strange that in times of personal grief people feel the need to share their pain immediately. To me its attention seeking, people just want to have 50 people comment on their status to validate their lives or something.]
I absolutely agree with this statement. I have real issues with ‘grief tourism’, which is a whole other corner of e-hell, but it does seem that for some people an emotion or experience isn’t valid unless it’s posted on Facebook / Twitter. I’d love to plug a great book by Susan Maushart ‘Winter of Our Disconnect’, where she complains that ‘life’ for her children seems to be one long Facebook opportunity.

We had a similar experience to the OP’s when my aunt died on New Years Eve 2009. It’s my father’s birthday and my eldest cousin didn’t want to ruin Dad’s day with the sad news and had planned to call the next morning. However my aunt’s granddaughter-in-law put it on facebook as soon as she heard the news. So Billy called me to let me know before one of us jumped on Facebook and got the shock of our lives. Unfortunately, Dad was with me when I took the phone call and could tell from my face that something had happened, so it wasn’t really an option to keep it from him. The granddaughter-in-law received a free character reading from her mother-in-law and had speedily removed the post. It wasn’t her news to tell. But… not before another grandson had picked up Facebook on his phone while on holidays. It was a hell of a way to find out that his much-loved Oma was gone.

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Nicole August 15, 2012 at 1:06 am

There’s a time and place for Facebook, and informing the rest of your family of a loved one’s passing is NOT it.
About a year back, I got a Facebook message from an aunt I’d met once many years ago (that branch of the family is on the other side of the country). She wanted me to inform my mother that one of their relatives had passed. I replied that this was not news that should be coming second hand through social media, attached my mom’s phone number, and asked that the news be delivered properly from someone who actually knew the deceased and could fill Mom in on the details.
Just… No.

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James August 15, 2012 at 6:08 am

It’s clearly better to learn that a loved one has left this world first hand, but I’m not sure Facebook is a worse way to find out than any other gossip (“hey maud, how are you?” “i’m ok i guess, just shocked about aunt lorraine.” “what happened to aunt lorraine?”). I know when my grandmother died, I had the task of calling the extended family to let them know. Ironically, the nephew she was closest to was the last to know by some distance; he was out that day and not answerring his phone. He could easily have bumped into someone in a pub or a shop and found out secondhand, and wondered why he hadn’t been told personally. But what can you do?

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jen a. August 15, 2012 at 6:24 am

If I didn’t think it would come off as a bit passive aggressive, I feel like posting this on my facebook…. Honestly, people need to check their heads. I sometimes feel like people have forgotten that deaths are not gossip. Why would you post something like that on facebook? To be the first to get to tell everyone?

@Allison

I had a friend “out” my pregnancy on facebook, despite my telling her not to. I took the comment down, but not before some people figured it out. She won’t be privy to any information from me in the future. Also, next time I have big news I’m going to disable comments on my site. Honestly, if I find out someone is pregnant I don’t put a thing on their facebook until I see them do the same.

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2browneyes4 August 15, 2012 at 9:59 am

@ Waltzing Matilda:

“free character reading” ROTFL!!!! I’ll have to use that one!!

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Rachel August 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Why would a child be allowed to read Facebook? Its for teens and adults only.

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MaryFran August 15, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Yep, that’s how I found out my grandmother has stage 3 cancer — because my uncle posted “found out mom has stage 3 lung cancer” right on his wall for the entire world to see. It’s that kind of update I never ever want to see again. Hopefully my mother will call me before he has a chance to update facebook. But just in case, I’m hiding his status on my feed.

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chechina August 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm

I can sympathize with OP’s grief; I would hate to find out something like this through Facebook. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not on Facebook. But other people are and you can’t control if they chose to post news from their life – she was their grandma too.

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ropollo August 16, 2012 at 9:07 am

Not quite the same, but a similar “breach of etiquette” (though I’m still undecided how I feel about the original story)… My mother-in-law passed away last year. I had to call my boss in the morning, obviously, to inform him that I would be out that day and for perhaps the rest of the week. Now, my husband also works for the same company and knows my boss and most of my coworkers. My boss decided to announce the death of my mother-in-law to other coworkers, on a conference call. My husband was shocked when he started getting phone calls from coworkers offering condolences when he’d not told anyone at work yet (though he had posted on Facebook). I was livid.

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Mary August 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm

In response to Rachel’s comment, “Why would a child be allowed to read Facebook? Its for teens and adults only.”

You would not believe the number of parents who have no problem (and even encourage) their preteen children to get Facebook accounts. However, in order to do this the children have to lie about their age while setting up their accounts (since the Facebook requirement is age 13). My daughter is 11 and going into sixth grade. I would say over 50% of her classmates have had Facebook accounts since before fourth grade (I know because I see them on my account as “suggested friends”) I have seen second and third graders with Facebook accounts.

My daughter knows I will not allow her to get an account until she is 13 because I refuse to lie about my children’s age for their benefit or mine. She desperately wants one because she can’t have a Pinterest account without one. But too bad.

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WhirlyBird August 17, 2012 at 1:53 am

Oh for heaven’s sake – I thought ours was the only family that had such a drama queen! Silly me!

I have a cousin to loveslovesloves to do this. Doesn’t matter what’s going on. Her mother is ill, and has been for some time, and she regularly posts health updates on Facebook, which is bad enough. When my dad had major surgery last year, she posted about that as well, which made me angry for a couple of reasons, and basically boiled down to the fact that she was advertising his health status to thousands (literally) of strangers, and making his personal information available. When I told her she had no business or right to post that kind of information or place my very sick father in that kind of jeopardy, she immediately unfriended me, and I haven’t heard from her since. Good riddance, except that it would be nice to monitor any of my own personal information she might be putting out there.

It’s all a ploy for attention *sigh*

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sv August 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Happened to a coworker of mine – she found out her ex boyfriend ( still a dear friend of hers) had died tragically in a car accident in a province halfway across the country. And she found out in an ambiguous way, ” RIP, X, you will be missed. ” What a terrible experience for her.

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Angela August 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I had something quite similar last year, although if it hadn’t been for Facebook then my mum wouldn’t have found out that her (estranged) brother had died. One of my cousins had posted “RIP Uncle ****”. I privately messaged him to ask the details and then called my mum. She has 6 brothers, this is the first one to have died, and although she’s not especially close to them none of them had thought to call her and tell her that her brother had died. She was quite understandably upset, by the time she found out he’d been dead almost a week and the funeral was in 2 days time. So whilst probably not the best place to post such a thing, if it wasn’t for Facebook my mum would still be none the wiser that her brother was dead.

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Treeang August 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm

This is a topic of great interest to me as my father-in-law died quite unexpectedly just a few days ago and we posted (not immediately) but on Facebook. We did notify exMIL, my husband’s siblings and my FIL’s siblings immediately and waited about 12 hours to post of FB. For us, it was just a matter of convenience. We don’t have everyone’s phone numbers and as the ones charged with making funeral arrangements in two different cities, we spent most of the first day meeting with funeral directors and ministers and trying to figure out all of the details and playing phone tag with family to let them know the plans for Dad. We didn’t have time to call everyone who needed to know, even if we had all of those numbers. I hope that family called the people they needed to, but I can’t guarantee that and I’m sure a few people found out via Facebook. It would be nice if there was designated calling tree, but in my husband’s family, there just really isn’t. And in the middle of grief, instead of reliving it every few minutes calling people, we just let everyone know.

I’m sorry if that offends. I’m not sure we would/could have done it either way. I guess I’ll find out at the funeral tomorrow if we annoyed people.

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SJ August 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm

I’ve had people react to tragic news as if it’s simply gossip, and they want to be the first to have the inside story. I find this terribly upsetting.

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kingsrings August 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

A few months ago, a childhood friend and neighbor of mine passed away suddenly due to an illness at the age of 40. I often use my Facebook to talk about anything and everything, but I didn’t post a status about it at first, because I wasn’t sure how many of his friends were on my list, and I didn’t want them to find out that way – seeing it appear on a Facebook status. I did, however, send a private Facebook message to those who knew him letting them know. It was the only way I knew how to contact them. A week or so later, RIP posts started showing up on his Facebook profile, so I added mine as well. That’s another thing that I wouldn’t have done right away obviously, due to the same reason as not wanting anyone to find out that way. But enough time had passed a week later that we did all feel comfortable doing that. Someone else posted on some Facebook group pages devoted to our high school classmates about his death and funeral info, but this was after she got permission from his mother to do so.

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Lambzig August 20, 2012 at 5:36 am

When my daughter was born, my husband sent a text message to my parents, my sisters and his sister (just the facts and a ‘we will call when we can’). His parents don’t use cell phones so he knew he would have to wait to call them, so said in his text to his sister – havent told mum and dad yet, so dont call them. I had a c-section and DH was busy looking after me and his new daughter, so didn’t call until he left the hospital late that night. His parents already knew because his sister had put it on facebook and his cousins had seen it and called his parents to congratulate them. They were really upset.

Later on my SIL posted my daughter’s baby photos on her facebook page when we had expressly asked her not to and said they were sent for her use only. It took repeated asking and a month for her to remove them.

I think people think of their facebook page s ‘their’ space to do what they want and really don’t get it when other people object. SIL was quite offended.

I am pregnant again at the moment and guess who wont be getting the news first this time?

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ReneeG1957 August 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I found out that my maternal grandmother had died when my married daughter called from out of state to ask me if what one of my cousins had posted on Facebook was true – that Great-Grandmother had died after lunch that day. Grandma was 97 – so she had children in their seventies, grandchildren up to their fifties, great-grandchildren up to their their late twenties, and a few great-great-grandchildren of various ages (all young). Lots of people to contact….but…

Due to events overtaking my mother and her forgetting her cell phone at home while she ran from the nursing home to the hospital to the house (clothing for the funeral for Grandma) the church and back to the hospital and church – she hadn’t called any of her kids, just her sisters. Who were at home and able to contact their offspring and grandkids.

So the news made it to my sister and I when I called her to see if she’d heard from Mom.

Yeah – I wasn’t too happy about the way it happened – but at least I was able to think that I’d seen her earlier that month when I was in town. And I was able to start making arrangements for the trip to the place where the funeral was going to be held in time to have a sibling go with me (we live in the same area). But I really wasn’t happy about my cousin posting it on Facebook before anyone else had a chance to get a phone call from their parent about what was going on.

Sheesh – wait until after dinner to post – not post two minutes later from your cell phone! Let other people find out from a member of the family – not the internet!

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jessica August 20, 2012 at 2:45 pm

When I had family members on Facebook we used it as a party line to disseminate information b/c we are spread out and not everyone has each other’s numbers- but everyone typically checked their FB daily. It’s a quick way to get information out to a lot of people at once, that’s how we see it. Sure other people see the same information but there are also filters set up so certain people can’t see certain things.
Now that I don’t have family on FB (whole different story that doesn’t actually involve FB) I don’t need to say anything the family needs to know. We can text or call each other.

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Snarkastic August 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Glad to see so many people in agreement that the, “RIP Pop Pop! Love you 4 eva!” Facebook post is completely inappropriate. Some days, I simply roll my eyes; other days, my blood actually boils. Sad to see others think this is not a big deal. The breakdown of interpersonal communication in our society is a terrible, terrible thing, dontcha’ know.

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Anonymous123 August 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

IMO, we can’t stop people from doing this. All we can do is respond politely when we encounter it.

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Caitlin August 22, 2012 at 3:29 pm

My younger (older teen) cousins did this when my mother was ill and it made me boil. They posted similar statuses to Margaret’s example “Pray for Aunt X” with every step of her illness in the last weeks of her life, even when we asked for them to keep it quiet as they knew people who attended the school my mother had been a teacher at and we didn’t want that whole school to know her status (they treated my mother terribly when she was ill and still working and also, that’s private business!)

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Guinevere August 22, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I agree with Waltzing Mathilda that some people use FB to validate their lives. That’s one main reason why I unplugged from the FB machine and ran away gleefully. I missed speaking with friends and family, I wanted to hear about their lives firsthand, not read what 38 other people think about my niece or nephew’s cute picture or video.

I miss writing letters to my friends out of province/country – I am going to go out and buy some lovely stationary and start that wonderful tradition again. I have a whole box of letters from loved ones that I will continue to enjoy reading when I’m old.

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crella August 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I just had this happen to me, albeit via Skype (and later FB). My mother had been sick for a few years, and in early August she was transferred from the rehab place she was in (improving, we thought she’d be home soon) to hospice as she took a really, really sudden downturn. I was trying to get plane tickets frantically, but with the holiday season here I was not finding anything that would get me back in time. My sister went to hospice and was sitting with her. She had told me there was no cell reception in my mother’s room, but I figured she’d step outside to call me. Fat chance…

After 8-9 hours of sitting in front of my computer I took a break; I was tired, sore, a whole day had gone by and we were approaching 11 pm my time. I had something to drink, took a look at the news, and came back to find on Skype from my niece ‘Mom’s still at the hospital, this is A, Nannie passed a half hour ago’. Good Lord. I almost sat on the floor. The next day it got posted on FB, I had to hurry and call or PM my friends who knew her so they wouldn’t be shocked. However, the fact that I haven’t posted publicly about my mother’s death is, contrary to common sense, being hinted at as a lack of caring. I’m thinking that maybe I’ll compose some kind of photo memorial to her eventually, but it’s just too soon.

The whole ‘RIP!’ thing just seems so crass. We haven’t had any of that, thank gods…

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Carmen August 27, 2012 at 7:20 pm

It’s kind of ironic that the poster inadvertently told her own mother about her grandma’s passing.. and here is she complaining that others inadvertently told her about it. It was a mistake, they didn’t realize you didn’t know… I doubt anyone was withholding information in order to hurt you.

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Tibs January 10, 2013 at 9:17 am

A dear friend of mine from high school had an experience like this. Her aunt, whom she was very, very close to, was a cop in our small town. She was sadly gunned down in the line of duty late one night. As I said our town is very small and the word on Facebook traveled very quickly. The news was not releasing any names, but there were rumors almost immediately, with enough information for me to guess who it was, even if the name was not specifically given.

Most of the people in our circle did not post the name of the officer. One did, with almost an, “I’m the first to tell, look at me, la la la la, I knew before anyone else!” type of sick glee tone to the post. Sure enough, our friend later revealed that the unfortunate Facebook post is how she learned of her aunt’s death.

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