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 }

lkb August 14, 2012 at 7:43 am

I had the misfortune of using Facebook to announce my mother’s passing. She passed one late night last fall. By morning, my sister had posted it on her Facebook page. At the time I felt I had to follow suit as we have some of the same friends (ie cousins/former classmates etc.). If I hadn’t, then there would have been a whole flurry of, “why didn’t lkb post when her sister did? Are they on the outs?” More drama than called for.

Yes, I would have preferred to wait and make phone calls in the morning but judging the circumstances there wasn’t much I could do. At least my mom’s siblings were able to find out in person from one of us (they’re not on Facebook).

Just putting it out there why this sometimes happens.

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PhDeath August 14, 2012 at 7:45 am

I can’t believe how common this seems to be! My grandfather passed away early last year. My cousins, who lived in the same city as my grandfather, updated their Facebook statuses…from their cell phones…literally 5 minutes after he passed.

I was fortunate enough to have been off-line when he died and found out via phone call from my dad. Other family members were not so lucky. One person saw a status and then, as noted in the OP, the frantic phone calls began. Not only did we deal with the inevitable upset about my grandfather’s death, but we also had to navigate a family rift about my cousins’ actions. They were adamant that they “deserved” to let people know; several family members (particularly those in the older generation) were angry, hurt, and offended.

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alex August 14, 2012 at 7:58 am

I totally agree that people need to be careful what they write via facebook, especially in regards to a death. My sister found out our grandfather died via my aunt’s facebook! She was in grad school and had some really big finals the week after (he died on a Saturday), and they were actually going to go down and tell her in person (the school was about 3 hrs away). Well, my sister found out via the newsfeed with something my aunt had written. I don’t actually remember what it was but it was something that didn’t actually say he died but gave the indication he had and then she called my parents up crying. The whole thing was very sudden (he committed suicide) and so they had to tell her but waited to tell her the suicide thing until they were in person. People need to be careful. In this same instance I received an email from another aunt about airline tickets for my parents on that Saturday and asked my mom and she had to lie as my dad (it was his dad) wanted to tell me in person and he was currently out of town. So people need to be really careful!

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o_gal August 14, 2012 at 7:59 am

I have what is probably a minority viewpoint, but I do not see a problem with someone updating their status with this kind of news, from the standpoint of how is everyone going to know when everyone else in the family has been told the news in person or by phone? (assuming those are the only “acceptable” means of communication.) The OP stated that news takes some time to trickle down all the branches of the family tree. Should the cousin be waiting for an “all clear” signal from someone in the family? I understand that it’s jarring to log in to Facebook and see a status update like that, but how different is that then getting a phone call at 3:30am? I’m sure that back when phones were first starting to be installed in homes, people got indignant when they received news via a phone call vs. someone coming out in person to talk to them. And I would say that the beginning of blame in this is how cousins came to know the news of grandma’s passing before all of her children did.

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Helen August 14, 2012 at 8:01 am

Well said, Admin.

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AMC August 14, 2012 at 8:02 am

The same goes for pregnancy news and engagements. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but if the ‘owner’ of the news hasn’t made it public, then you shouldn’t either.

I encountered a similar situation as the OP a few years ago when a high school friend posted on FB about her engagement to her boyfriend. I worked with her father at the time, so when I saw him the next day I told him I’d heard about his daughter’s good news and congratulated him. It quickly became apparent he had no idea what I was talking about. I felt terrible about spilling the beans, but how was I to know she she told her Facebook friends before her dad? Granted, I have no idea what their relationship is like. There were no rifts or estrangements between them that I was aware of, and he seemed pretty surprised that she hadn’t yet told him and her mother. I don’t know; maybe she wanted to surprise them or was worried they might disapprove (They didn’t). But if that was the case, then posting on a public social networking site was probably a bad idea.

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Stella August 14, 2012 at 8:03 am

It baffles me that, when it comes to any major life events and FB, people don’t consider to wait for the person/s involved to make that post first.

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Shannon August 14, 2012 at 8:05 am

This happened to me with my grandmother last year. She was not in good shape and had been in the hospital, and I knew she was being moved to hospice, so it wasn’t a shock, but I would have preferred to have gotten a call from my mom rather than see it on Facebook. I don’t think my cousins even waited an hour after she passed. :(

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abf August 14, 2012 at 8:13 am

As much as a I enjoy and use currently technology, it amazes me how people just loose it when it comes to common sense. I agree with OP about the benefits of keeping in touch with friends and family on facebook, but I have recently made some changes to my Facebook page due to people who just don’t seem to have a clue. Yesterday and today’s stories are perfect examples of individuals who put their wants ahead of the immediate family’s needs.
I worked in the funeral industry for many years, and I can’t tell how many times people did not respect the feelings of the immediate family. In the funeral home where I worked, the policy was that viewing/visitation of the deceased did not begin until the immediate family and/or next of kin (person(s) who were financially responsible for funeral expenes) had been in to have their time of viewing first. More times than I could count, we had distant relatives or friends enter the funeral home and become irrate that they weren’t allowed in to see the deceased and became even more irrate when we tried to explain our policy. They simply didn’t care that they were overstepping their bounds and intruding on the immediate family’s right to have their time first. Let me make it clear, 99% of the time these individuals did not have an close relationship with the deceased. They always acted like we were inconveniencing them. They never bothered to call ahead and check the vistiation schedule.

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Ripple August 14, 2012 at 8:18 am

If they knew for so long that Grandma wasn’t going to live much longer, they could have set up an “announcement tree.” The ones who were there (or were listed as those to contact) would then call or possibly even e-mail one group of relatives, who would inform the next group, etc. No one would have to contact everyone, but everyone would get the message within a short time. And it would certainly be more personal than Facebook.

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Katie August 14, 2012 at 8:19 am

Firstly, I would like to extend my sympathy to OP and admin for their losses.

About the wider etiquette issue… I’m not a big fan of posting these kind of status updates on FB, mainly because I’m quite private, but also because of situations such as the one described.

I have to admit, though, that my initial response was similar to O-girls, particularly with the story that Admin described. If I, as a friend or distant family member, knew about someone’s death, I would assume (rightly or wrongly) that their children/close relations had been informed. It just wouldn’t occur to me that the immediate family didn’t know.

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admin August 14, 2012 at 8:39 am

Katie,

In my case, the children had spent the afternoon with friends while their parents went to the emergency room. The father died from a massive heart attack in the parking lot with emergency staff working on him. Friends of the parents knew before the kids did as word spread quickly but the pastors and widow were waiting to get the kids alone and tell them personally. Facebook status were updated so quickly that they almost didn’t get the opportunity.

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Mockette August 14, 2012 at 8:25 am

We fought against this when my mother passed last year. We knew her death was imminent and all discussed those that would be told before any type of “posting”. We made sure the kids, grandkids and siblings were told personally before there was any chance of random posting. It took planning and effort.

At the same time, my mother was a huge facebook fan. She had over 900 “friends”, she checked her page multiple times a day and her friends were are great support and distraction during her illness. When she was not able, I was tasked with making “updates” for her friends. Once family was informed of her death, I made a simple post announcing her death and a few days after her memorial service, I posted a couple of pictures of the service (flowers, photos, and some of her paintings we displayed) and thanked her “friends” for the support and comfort they had given her during her illness.

It was difficult to find a balance between my desire for privacy and her desire/need for her online community.

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T August 14, 2012 at 8:45 am

Same courtesy goes for congratulations and well wishes. Don’t go to someone’s FB page and congratulate them on a new baby, engagement, pregnancy, marriage, job, etc. until they have announced it on FB.

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Amber August 14, 2012 at 9:02 am

Interesting debate. Manners for the Digital Age tackled this one, and I believe the two hosts were split between waiting a day or two to say something on Facebook (the amount of time one can assume everyone close knows) and saying that this is just an inevitablility of our connected world.

Personally, I feel people are certainly allowed to post their news on Facebook, that being the point of the application, and sometimes that news is about grief and death. Death is a part of life, after all, so sometimes the sad announcements will come. And I can’t fault someone for needing the digital world as a crutch during a difficult time, especially since that’s the entire point of the application (re: bonding online).

Personally, I think as soon as someone passes, a couple of people should be tasked with getting the message out as quickly as possible. I’m flabberghasted that someone didn’t call the OP’s mother, who is a daughter of the dead for goodness sake, as soon as grandma died. If grandma died in the night, why didn’t OP’s mom know by the morning?? I’d be livid if one of my siblings or aunts or uncles sat on that news until morning whether or not I found out on Facebook.

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L August 14, 2012 at 9:08 am

I understand that people post these things as a way to reach out to their community of support in a time of mourning and to share the news with others who may care but not be connected directly enough to receive a personal alert, but I think we should establish some kind of societal rule of thumb about the timing of these posts. Perhaps that such things aren’t appropriate until 8 to 12 hours have passed.

I disagree with the poster who questioned how different a post is from a 3:00 am phone call. The difference is a live person delivering the news. Being connected with another human who can actually offer comfort as you speak (rather than after you hit “enter”) is enormous. Both that and the matters of dignity and respect are why families are informed in person by hospital staff, policemen, and military personnel whenever possible.

I’m very young, but my best friends and I have already agreed that there will be no “RIP” posts in the event that something happens to one of us. They can respond to condomences expressed directly to them and post memories after a respectful amount of time, but any sharing of the news or expressions of grief should be done in person.

Another good thing to keep in mind- if you wouldn’t shout it in the town square, print it in the newspaper, or say it in front of your grandmother, don’t put it on Facebook.

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Denise miller August 14, 2012 at 9:13 am

I’m going to be in the minority, I don’t see anything wrong with the cousins “posting” in their time of mourning. Everyone grieves differently and they could have been seeking the support of family and friends, it is “their” news to share as much as it is any other grandchilds, and while it is unfortunate that your mother wasn’t informed sooner, that was not their responsibility.

Had you of not found out via Facebook you would have found out when your aunt asked for obituary information, and your mom’s method of finding out would not have changed.

In the end, it would have been nice if your mom’s siblings notified her sooner, and Facebook is an irrelevant factor.

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Cat August 14, 2012 at 9:15 am

I get the feeling that some people are still caught up in the childhood wish to be the first to tell some important news. It’s more gossip than sharing needed information of either a tragic or a happy fact. I recall a post of a sister who rushed to tell her father that her sister had just delivered a baby boy-a fact that the happy mother wanted to be the first to share.
Sometimes the information is incorrect.My mother once mentioned to an adult friend that my father had an irregular heart beat. He had had it for twenty-five years, but her daughter was a classmate at my school and she rushed up to give me her sympathy that my father had had a heart attack.
And then there are idiots-like my cousin who decided to inform me of our grandmother’s death via Christmas letter. It read, “My daughter had a baby! I’m so excited that I’m a grandmother. Oh, and Granny died December 16th. Her funeral was very nice.” I didn’t care for our grandmother but the fa, la, la aspect seemed a strange combination with a death notice.

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Harley Granny August 14, 2012 at 9:25 am

Our family has a creed as you would as to if something if “Facebook Ready”.

The owner of the story will declare “FB Ready” when it’s OK for everyone else to know.

Example: My sister’s 4th grandchild was recent born and we were all asked to let the new Mom post 1st and she would let us know when the news was “Facebook Ready”. Since the entire family adheres to this it works out well.

It looks like some families could use the same policy.

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AS August 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

First of all, I am sorry for your loss, OP.

I do understand how awful it can be to hear the loss of a close family member through facebook. When my mother passed away quite suddenly, I waited for about 2 weeks to post it on facebook (that too, I only posted so that our friends who knew mom, and are on facebook, would know and not ask me or my dad benign questions which would be opening up the grief over and over; we are still coming to terms with it after several months have gone by). Thankfully for me, I have (not yet) learned about a death through facebook.

I also find it awkward to learn about a close friend or family’s engagement through facebook too. I would have liked to get at least an e-mail before they make it public – and what if fb didn’t show me the message?

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Angela August 14, 2012 at 9:29 am

I think a governing principle might be for people to ask “Why am I updating with this?”. If it’s to let people know who are outside the circle of immediate family, especially if they would want to come to the service and might not know otherwise, that’s an honorable intention. If it’s to be the first one with the information, the announcement is really all about you, not the person who is deceased or hurt.

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Library Diva August 14, 2012 at 9:31 am

How timely. I was just having a discussion with a co-worker who was upset to learn about her best friend’s engagement via Facebook. We discussed how people just don’t think when it comes to that site. When I got engaged, I was faced with my own dilemma. My fiance’s family had known for several months that he was gearing up to ask, and he’d secretly updated them about buying the ring, etc. The night he asked and I accepted, we called his family, then drove out to see my parents. I called my sister on the phone from their house, and called my best friend on the phone after I returned to my place.

Then I logged in to Facebook.

I had three very sweet, lovely messages from my future in-laws, telling me how excited they were to officially welcome me as part of the family, how much I meant to them, how happy they were for both of us, really exactly how you’d hoped your in-laws would feel and the sort of thing that brings a tear to your eye. Except…I hadn’t told a lot of people yet. I opted to leave the messages up and update my own status. But it was a little soon.

I think that when it comes to FB and Twitter, a lot of people just have no filter. They don’t stop to think whether anyone would care that they’re getting their oil changed, whether it’s smart to post that they hate their jobs, or whether posts like “not sure buying a flat-screen tv was such a good idea in my ghetto neighborhood but oh well too late now” are the smartest thing. If it’s in their heads, it’s coming out of their fingers. And they don’t stop to consider the audience either. Grandma Ruth doesn’t want to know about your exploits at the club. Your boss doesn’t want to know how much you’re enjoying 50 Shades of Gray. And the person in this story who posted about death on FB didn’t think, there are people on my friends list who shouldn’t find out like this, better keep a lid on. The poster was sad about the loss of his grandma, so that’s what went up. I bet this person also likes to live-blog his fast-food orders (“Can’t believe they ran out of fries…guess I’m stuck here for a few more minutes”).

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J'smama August 14, 2012 at 9:39 am

This is the downside to social networking. I found out on Facebook that a cousin was killed in a car accident at work. I immediately called my mom who confirmed what I had seen. It was still awful to start crying at work. I wish I had been told in private.

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Kimberly August 14, 2012 at 9:40 am

In my family we have an informal phone tree.
You call each branch of my parent’s generation, If they have passed you call one of their kids
Parents notify their kids, who notify their kids.

In my case either my sister or I are called and asked to notify the other because our parents have passed on.

When my uncle died, his obit was posted by his eldest daughter, but only after everyone was notified by phone or in person. The link to the obit was posted on line for those who don’t live in our area/get our paper.

There was a humorous notification. My uncle was on hospice, and my Aunt was recovering from a stroke. I called one day midmorning and asked my cousins if they were up to visitors and could I bring anything/run any errand for them on my way there. They said fine, could I pick up some things from the store. I was there 20 minutes – before I figured out my Uncle had died the night before. The eldest sister was going to call me, but hadn’t gotten to it yet because other things had to be taken care off. They figured out I hadn’t known when the older sister called to update the and mentioned that she was calling Sis and Me next. We actually got a good laugh out of it.

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Stacey Frith-Smith August 14, 2012 at 9:41 am

I suppose that in the case of death, a sense of shock might cause someone to act before considering how their decision to post on Facebook or other social media would affect those closest to he deceased. Death brings stress to the fore and people are more sad, sometimes selfish and clueless than in the ordinary days. People need to be considerate of one another and slow down their reactions just a bit. Sometimes the enormity of a loss can cause us to act in ways that aren’t becoming. That’s why etiquette provides a refuge for these times. Its forms give a framework and predictability to how things should be done. Overturning convention for convenience or for a desire to be first in the “status” races is very bad indeed.

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Lisa August 14, 2012 at 10:04 am

This is so sad. I don’t use social media, but my friends who do are so linked in, I can see where they might not think anything is wrong with posting this information. Hopefully this might help in establishing some awareness and social media etiquette.

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whatever August 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

I don’t understand why people care about where they find out information and who finds it out first. If my cousin posts something on Facebook or I get a phone call- either way I know, and my reaction would be the same: trying to deal with the news itself, rather than worrying about how it got to me. If you worry about the latter, that’s extra stress you are putting on yourself.

And between Facebook and the phone call, I prefer Facebook. Many members of my father’s family hoard information and give different information to different people, a fact that was driven home to me over and over again when my paternal grandfather died in May. My aunt told my mom and me different dates and times for the memorial! My cousins who blab on Facebook are at least delivering information, the same information to everyone.

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Gloria Shiner August 14, 2012 at 10:21 am

I’m not sure how I feel about this. While I don’t think non-family should be posting “the news”, sometimes FaceBook is the only way I find out about deaths, births, pregnancies or other news.

If my niece didn’t post her pregnancy, I probably wouldn’t have found out until the kid was 18. And we live in neighboring towns.

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Susan August 14, 2012 at 10:50 am

I think people are in such a hurry to be the first one to post about it that common sense just flies out the window. I think to be on the safe side, the postings should be made after the arrangements are announced.

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Ashley August 14, 2012 at 10:54 am

Hi all, OP here. Thank you to all of you who have expressed your sympathies. She was a wonderful woman and she will be missed.

Like I said, I don’t mind Facebook when it comes to happy announcements. For example, one of my cousins is currently living in Italy where her husband is stationed with the army. Phone calls don’t always like staying connected from there to the US, so when she found out she was pregnant, announcing it on Facebook, then asking those of us who live stateside to spread the news was the most effective way.

But as for my grandmother’s passing yesterday…That’s one thing I think should be done over the phone or in person. Hearing my mother’s voice break when she found out that A) Her mother had died, and B) I knew before her because of Facebook…it was the most heartbreaking thing. Plus my brother found out the same way, WHILE I was on the phone with my mother, because then he tried calling her too. There are other family members who were equally confused by the whole thing, entire branches of the family were still trying to be reached. It wasn’t a nice thing at all.

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Wendy August 14, 2012 at 11:04 am

The problem I see with putting something on Facebook immediately is that it is the right of the immediate family (spouses, children, siblings, grandchildren) to know FIRST before the rest of the world…meaning phone calls (how quaint, huh?) personal visits or even e-mail. Therefore, if grandpa died while you were there, don’t post it on Facebook first until you have permission from whomever is in charge (like grandma or aunt Edna or whoever). I’d hate to be the person who gets the phone call asking what happened to my dad when I didn’t even know he was sick. In fact, there’d probably be eHell to pay to whoever thoughtlessly posted it before I was notified.

I’d also like to point out that yes, this might be the digital age where information is instantaneous, but having the attitude that information should be spread via social media and not by slower means is disrespectful to the thousands of people who aren’t wired.

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--Lia August 14, 2012 at 11:04 am

In my family, the problem long preceded facebook. Anything I told my mother, no matter how personal, got broadcast to everyone she knew. My father wasn’t as bad, but he too just thought my life was interesting so he talked about it. They’re quite elderly now and don’t have facebook pages, but I certainly am careful with what I send them in email. At least back in the old days when I used to write them letters, they had to put on their own stamp before sending my personal mail to the relatives. As far as they’re concerned, email saves them the trouble of photocopying.

A funny thing happened a few years ago. My mother and I had had our usual argument about the inappropriateness of forwarding personal mail without the sender’s permission. That’s when I changed to my current policy of sending only brief inconsequential notes that aren’t even particularly well written. But my mother had sent a nice letter to one of her friends, and that friend had forwarded it to people my mother didn’t even know. The friend just thought it was a nice letter so she shared it. When the news got back to my mother, she was livid. It wasn’t that the letter contained anything embarrassing, but it wasn’t written for publication. First she told me that she now understood the importance of my “rule” (about not forwarding email). (The shadow quotes were hers I think to emphasize that she thought it was arbitrary.) Then she went back to her old habits.

And thus with personal family news. If you don’t want a secret told, don’t tell it. If the immediate family has not yet been notified, don’t share the news with anyone else. If you don’t want it on facebook, don’t tell anyone who is in a position to put it on facebook. In other words, the same old rules apply in this digital age.

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Jenn50 August 14, 2012 at 11:17 am

I think there is a great deal to be said for discretion in these cases. The unexpected death should not be blurted out on facebook until the news had been circulated to the grieving circle personally. When my mother passed, however, it was VERY expected. She had been lingering painfully with terminal cancer in the hospital for weeks, and had been comatose for days. Everyone who actually cared about her knew that death was imminent, and would, in fact, be a welcome release from her suffering. Everyone who knew our family knew we were going through this difficult time. Her family who lived close enough joined us at the hospital to be with her as she took her final breath. When I got home from the hospital, I posted a simple update: “At 2:00 AM today, I lost my beloved mother. May she rest in peace.” My brother posted something similar. We felt that her extended family would not be shocked by this, but rather appreciate knowing quickly that mom’s suffering was past. It’s another matter entirely when someone feels compelled to be the one to spill the beans about an unexpected death. We’ve had a shocking number of local high school kids killed in car accidents lately, and in many cases, it had hit my son’s facebook page before the police had made an official identification and notified the parents.

On the other hand, I think this tends to be a generational thing. People my age (mid-30s) and younger seem to find this just another medium, no better or worse than telephone or letter, where previous generations seem to find it impersonal and insulting. Either way, the primary grievers should be given the courtesy of more personal notification before blanket status updates appear.

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Lisahhh August 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

I don’t believe most people do it out of spite, although there will always be those gossipy-types who strangely enjoy being the bearer of bad news. In my family’s case, my mother’s death was imminent, but didn’t happen until the wee hours of the morning. I decided to wait until normal wake-up time to call my teenage children, as they each had important finals the next day and needed the sleep. However, my brother, who was the only one of us siblings who couldn’t be there, posted the news on FB within the first half hour of her passing. My kids and their uncle are all FB frends. While I understood why he posted it, I didn’t have the heart to ask him to delete the post; living far away from the rest of us, it was the best way for him to alert his immediate support network that he needed them. As a compromise, to prevent my kids from finding out via FB THAT their beloved grandmother had passed, I called my brother and asked him to temporarily unfriend my kids. He understood and we were spared further drama. It WAS a bit weird that the first conversation with my brother following our mother’s death involved social media missteps. I suppose that’s one of the downsides of the convenience it otherwise creates.

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Michellep August 14, 2012 at 11:24 am

I cannot believe the posters on here supporting anyone posting a death on FB immediately after it happened. This happened to my sister; my mother’s sister in law called her daughters who live in another time zone immediately after my grandmother passed. Long story short, my sister found out our grandmother died on facebook. My mother was furious and her sister in law apologetic, but her daughters are adults and she felt she “couldn’t reprimand them”. They barely knew my grandmother and her body wasn’t even cold when they posted it, but that’s another story.

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Calli Arcale August 14, 2012 at 11:52 am

Having grown up in a family with gossips, I know not to blame this on Facebook. Facebook is bringing more people into this situation than were before, because it provides a more efficient medium for gossip. Used to be, one person would tell another, then they’d tell another because they figured by that time it was public, and so on. Now, that original gossip has the opportunity to gossip far more efficiently, and so it’s more likely to come back to you or blow secrets too quickly.

The police and the military and hospitals (generally) know how this works, and they’ve learned it the hard way over decades of bearing bad news in often very public situations. (If somebody is shot inside a popular restaurant, there is going to be a lot of media interest in who they were; it takes a well defined plan to make sure the news only gets out in the proper order, with proper respect to the survivors of the deceased.) Everyone can learn from their example, and families should. If you are the person who carries the bad news, make sure to caution everyone you tell that only once all of the family are notified are they free to start talking about it publicly. If you are receiving the bad news and hear this caution, respect it. If you don’t hear the caution, ask if it’s safe to share. And whatever you do share, do it carefully — some people appreciate hearing condolences over Facebook; others will see those postings as a continual reminder of the loss. If you really want to offer condolences, be gentle, and only do it once until you know how it is received.

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Julie August 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I’m in my 20s and while I think that social media is great for sharing news to as many people as possible, some news, especially births or deaths, is best done over the phone or in person. This is mostly because of the impersonal nature of social media, the lack of direct interaction, and quite literally, no way to express/receive genuine emotion. I can’t tell you how many times I had to find out about a friend’s engagement on Facebook and there are already over 100 comments of “congratulations!” I usually don’t add to that list, rather, I send a private email or text of congrats.

Also, when someone shares big news with you, you should think twice before posting it on social media. I’ve had several friends who told me about major life events over the phone or in person (pregnancies, engagements, etc). I always responded by saying how happy I was for their milestone, but that I will be discreet with their news until they’re ready to announce it publicly. All my friends have expressed gratitude towards my discretion, one friend said that she was in the process of announcing her news one phone call at a time and was not posting anything on Facebook. Imagine if I had gone ahead and posted a congratulatory note on her timeline without her permission!

Bottom line, other peoples’ news are their property. Unless they gave you permission to distribute it, don’t. It’s better to err on the side of caution in these sensitive times.

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GC Girl August 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I went through this 2 years ago when my 99 year old paternal grandmother passed away early in the morning on a work day. Long story short, two of my idiot cousins who work from home posted the news on their Facebooks within minutes of being told. This is a terrible way to find out a loved one has died, plus they denied my father the chance to break the news to me and my sibs gently as he was simply waiting for us to return home from our jobs that day. All the uncles and my father (with their respective wives) were up in arms thanks to these cousins because it was very obvious that posting the death of our grandmother wasn’t a expression of mourning as much as it was a cry for attention from their friends…Look at me!! My Grandma died!! Feel sorry for me!!

Our big bone of contention was that Grandma didn’t use social media. We knew all her friends and family and they were in the process of being contacted. There was absolutely no rush to post this immediately. You want to mourn, that’s fine, but no upstaging the decease with cries of attention please. Plus, to paraphrase one of my uncles at the funeral…”Just so you know, my death is not a gorram Facebook status!”

My sympathy to the OP for the loss of her grandmother.

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Kovi August 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I have to agree with o_gal, to be honest. What’s wrong with someone sharing their grief with friends and family through Facebook? They are seeking comfort, just like someone making a phone call or writing a letter. As long as it’s something considerate, and not, “OMG so-and-so just DIED!! :O”, I don’t really see the issue. Of course, all attempts to notify the immediate family beforehand should be done.

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Ann August 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm

All of these posts definitely highlight how being so-called “connected” via electronics has magnified the level of “disconnect” between actual human beings.

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Elizabeth August 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I am not a FB fan and this re-affirms – how absolutely mindless of people.

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Lo August 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm

I absolutely agree that in the event of a death, updating FB is NOT the preferred method of spreading the news. Nor should it be for any big announcement until there is reasonable certainty that all parties involved have made the news “public”. It’s got to be the worst way to find out about anything.

One of the reasons I’m not involved with Facebook much and not at all with my own family is that a family member posted he and his wife’s decision to divorce on Facebook…
…and that was how their kids found out.

Horrible.

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Cher630 August 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I wouldn’t blame Facebook as much as I would blame the family…why did it take so long for news of a death to reach the OP’s mom?! It was HER mother! She should have been one of the first to find out! With technology being the way it is, with cell phones on at all times, news like this shouldn’t “trickle down” the family tree. It takes a 5 minute phone call.
I wouldn’t blame the cousin for writing it on his/her Facebook either. Maybe he wanted his friends to know and honestly, Facebook is the easiest way to communicate information.

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Miss Raven August 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm

This is awful, and it is an epidemic. But I feel like what I saw recently puts all these stories to shame.

My [relative] is not a bad person. But she’s in her early 20′s and self-centered sometimes. She’s also VERY social and therefore VERY into social media. However, I was still blindsided by the latest hijinks.

A couple months ago, her good friend’s grandfather passed away. Her Facebook post was, “RIP Grandpa LastName!!! With @Friend, @Friend’s Sister, @Friend’s Mother at Funeral Home.” OMG! Not only did she CHECK IN at the funeral home on Facebook, but she also TAGGED her friend and her friend’s family in the check-in.

That was the instant I knew humanity was doomed. It remains to be one of the most inappropriate Facebook posts I’ve ever seen.

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Rug Pilot August 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I found out my grandmother had died after going through my father’s papers after his death. And all that time I thought she was still alive. Nobody tells me anything.

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Carrie August 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Kovi, and anyone else who wants to post about a loved ones death on Facebook:

No one is saying Don’t Post on Facebook. Just be considerate of loved ones. Would it really kill you to wait a day or two until everyone in the immediate family knew before posting a beloved relative died on a social media site? You need immediate support, fine, talk to a friend in a private message, don’t broadcast that grandma or aunt so and so died just 5 minutes ago!

On another note, the news of a death in the family is supposed to be announced by the matriach/patriarch of that family, the children of the person who died, the spouse, or someone specifically designated for that task *by the immediate family*. Not a task for grandchildren(unless they’re old enough to be the patriarch/matriarch), cousins, aunts, especially not your Great-Uncle’s son’s second cousin who never even met the deceased. That would just be inconsiderate and is merely a cry for attention.

I would be furious if someone announced the death of one of my parents or sisters on Facebook, Twitter, or what have you only minutes after they passed and before we had a chance to privately talk to the rest of the family and make arrangements. I would not want people outside the family to know until we were ready emotionally.

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whoopydoo August 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Or how about this

1. Woman passes away. Her sister logs on to her facebook and posts a message saying that woman has passed and what she died from
2. Checking the facebook status of an friend only to find people posting on there cryptic messages like “miss you buddy, I put in my car speakers while I was thinking of you” and wondering what has happened to this person
3. Woman has passed. Husband does not know or care to take down her facebook page. I have never friended this woman but we have several mutual friends so I am always getting messages to “Add Friend” with this deceased woman. Upon looking at her facebook, it appears loaded with messages from her friends asking her to see whatever current cause they are involved in.

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Ruby August 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Last year, we had to make the decision to withdraw my mother from life support after a futile battle with pneumonia. The doctors said there was nothing further they could do for her. We decided to withdraw it the immediate family could be there.

My cousin on my DAD’S side, (Mom and Dad had been divorced for 10 years), whom none of us have seen in years, posted it on FACEBOOK that we were going to withdraw life support. We were keeping that to ourselves. Then she posted a poem in my mom’s memory, something about “If the rest of my life was just one day.” (As if we didn’t feel guilty enough withdrawing the life support the next day, now she was almost throwing it on our faces that Mom had one day left to live and was missing out on the rest of her life. Mom was only 58 years old.)

THEN other family on my dad’s side started posting, “RIP **my mom’s name** ” before she was even dead.

These people hadn’t seen my mom in years and years and they never got along that well anyway. They were just posting it all for attention on facebook. Complete strangers to us were giving them condolences.

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koolchicken August 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm

We have actually used Facebook for this in a positive way in my family. We wait until we’re sure everyone we can call and speak to personally knows and then after a few days it goes up on Facebook. That way people who might not be super close to the family can find out and if they want to attend the funeral they’ll find out in time. Also, one of my cousins knows my father keeps most of the adults on his side from contacting me. So he puts family deaths on Facebook so at least I’ll know. And quite frankly I would rather find out someone died on Facebook from a cousin than from the obituaries in the newspaper. And that is how I found out my grandparents died until I told my cousin so he tells me himself now.

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Ruby August 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm

My previous post was a little unclear. We made the decision to withdraw it on Thursday, and actually withdrew it on Friday. So during that horrible 1 day that we waited to get my mom’s immediate family together, my dad’s family was blabbing it all over facebook and saying RIP before Mom was even gone.

The one saving grace was my dad’s brother, who private messaged everyone on that side to shut the f*** up about it.

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Julian August 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm

This happened to a dear friend of mine.

I was attending a motorcycle race event. There was a massive crash in the main event, three riders went down. The race was stopped, and the medical team scrambled. We in the audience didn’t know who was involved or what was happening – radio silence from the announcement team means usually bad things, but I figured out several riders who hadn’t returned to the pits, so I had an idea who was involved, two of whom I knew very well (former member of the medical team).

While the crowd was waiting to see what was happening, I received a phone call from a friend over 3000km away. His daughter, who was seriously dating one of the fallen riders, had seen a post on facebook saying he was dead. Dad rang me, assuming I’d be there, to see if it was true.

As it turned out (after a call from another friend in the medical team), it was her young man that was dead. I’m just glad she had her mother and father with her when she found out.

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