Friday, April 20, 2012

S is for...

SAYING GOODBYE


I've only know three people who have died.  The first person was my grandmother.  When she went to the hospital with advanced leukemia, I wasn't allowed to go visit because of my age. I never got to say goodbye to her.  The other two were Khristian Oliver and Larry Matthew Puckett.  These two men both knew the exact date and approximate time of their deaths because they were executed by the state of Texas and the state of Mississippi. I met Khristian Oliver the day before the state of Texas executed him.  The next day, I went to tell him goodbye and I was at a loss for words.  I wrote an essay about him called Surrender, which was published in Ten Spurs, but you can read about my experience here on Smith Magazine's, The Moment.
With Matt Puckett, I had to say goodbye in a letter, which was rather difficult to compose.

I had a conversation via Twitter with a fellow A to Z challenge participant about social media and grieving.  I think we both agreed that it is useful when a public figure such as a musician dies so that their fans can share memories and console each other, but I can't help but think about sites such as Facebook when the loss is personal.  There's an interesting article from Time about grieving and Facebook.

And here's another interesting article about what happens when you die (simmer down now) on your social media accounts after you die.

What do you think about Facebook and grieving?  Do you think it's cool for someone to post "My mom just died" or "I have three months to live."  Should these things be kept off social media?  Tell me your thoughts...

18 comments:

  1. I think it's awkward when someone posts something like, "Thank you everyone for coming to mom's funeral. Your presence was such a comfort to us in our time of need" - and people "like" it.

    Yes, I get that they mean they are supporting the poster, but it just sounds wrong.

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  2. I agree. I find it really awkward to post "bad" news on facebook. I've done it a couple of times, nothing major, but I notice that those posts tend to get passed by. But if I post about something ridiculous, people love it. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, if I did post that someone I knew died and it was ignored by my "friends" it might compound my grief, like "no one cares!"

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  3. Another thought provoking post.

    I've always wondered what would happen to my FB and Twitter accounts if I passed away before deleting my accounts.

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    1. Well, I hope that link answered your question.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. That ExtremeTech article was both fascinating and terrifying. I never thought about email accounts being turned over, ye gads!

    I have seen instances on Facebook where the family either takes over the site, or creates a page to "celebrate the life of". They are still able to send out status updates from it (like on birthdays and other anniversaries) so not exactly a "memorized" account.

    When someone shares a passing of a loved one on FB, it does help those near and far away to be able to share condolences quickly. It may be someone I am not close enough to to send an actual card in the mail, yet I don't want it to go unacknowledged.

    I agree though, when someone "likes" the status, it appears a little weird, although you know their hearts are probably in the right place. If I don't know what to really say, I just post a heart by using the <3 keys.

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  5. I think using social media to share that kind of information is a personal choice. It works for some, for others--not so much. I would never use it as a venue to share such news, but I don't hold it against others who do.

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    1. Me neither. I just think it's something we all have to think about now that our lives are so tied up with social media.

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  6. I've had a handful of humans pass away and never really got to "say goodbye" to any of them. I wouldn't have wanted to, though. I've seen people days before their deaths but no matter how sick or old they may have been, the dying was always a shock. I think the idea of a life going away is something that is hard to imagine until it happens. The hardest deaths I've had to encounter have definitely been pets and those I have been able to say goodbye but I've only said "goodbye" to one. I knew my mom was taking our golden retriever in and so I had the last chance to hug her and kiss her and cry with her. For the other dogs, one I was too young to know what was happening and the other my parents told me after the fact (and I was FURIOUS). For Max, I was in denial that he was doing as badly as he was so saying goodbye wasn't an option in my mind and then he died right in front of me. I will always hate the idea of saying goodbye because it's too final. I'm too mortal and human to accept that I can possibly know when my loved ones will leave me. There's that weakness that so many of us have, that what if. What if there are even a few more hours and you say goodbye too soon? As for social media, if it weren't for Facebook I wouldn't have found out that one of my college friends died. I was furious about that, too. I couldn't believe nobody would call or email me to let me know and that I had to find out through somebody's status update. Then I felt terrible that I hadn't seen him or talked to him in months. But because of Facebook I was able to go to his funeral which was beautiful and every year Facebook reminds me that it would be his birthday. It's kind of bittersweet.

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    1. Be sure and check out the Time article about grief and facebook.
      It's never too late or too early to let people you love know that you love them and what they mean to you. I think that's better than saying goodbye. It's saying, my life is better because you've been it.
      There are certain people who when they die, I won't leave their side. I'll hold their hand or pet their head or read to them until they decide to go. But, I've heard many stories from hospice workers that many people will hold out to actually die until that person leaves the room. Like they want to spare them the actual moment of death.

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  7. Elephant ...

    When someone says "My someone died," there's no right way to respond because no amounts of clever words is going to take away their pain. Sure, if you're a necromancer, your words probably hold more bearing, but for normal folk, words are meaningless.

    This sounds all negative and doom and gloom, but this is all part of the healing process. As people, we're not supposed to be able to hear "I'm sorry" and be magically healed. What we take from kind words, is just that there's people there when we need them.

    The problem though, is that if someone posts on Facebook, it's like there's an elephant in the room.

    Gone is the ability to hug it out, or hide behind my usual cynical front, for fear of upsetting the person furthur, and gone is the simple "smile and nod."

    If letting it out on Facebook geuinly helps someone to speed up the process, then by all means do it! For me, I'd rather talk face-to-face.

    /Wes
    /Elephant

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    1. that's for dang sure. There are no magical words, but presence is a gift.

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  8. The idea of not getting to say goodbye is always the thing that totally destroys me in thinking about death, but that's apart from the whole Facebook/social media question. Recently, a friend of mine had her cat go missing, so she posted it on FB in case anyone had seen him. When she got the news that he'd been found hit by a car, she posted that too, along with a really honest and wonderful post explaining that even though he was "just" a cat, the loss hit her really hard, and she would be maintaining radio silence for a while. Then she publicized a memorial for him. I was able to post a link to the awesome article I got from you on the real impact of pets dying (that was unbelievably timely, seriously) and go to the memorial. I honestly would never have known without FB that she was going through anything - it's not like she was going to call each of her friends to say that her cat had died, and we're not so close that I see her on a regular basis. So in this case, FB helped a lot of people support her.

    If it was someone in my family, would I do the same? I don't know. I might be inclined to vanish from the internet for a while instead. So I agree - I think it's a case by case thing.

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    1. Yeah, I have no idea what I'm going to do, but I think I'm leaning towards not posting. I'm definitely retreat when something bad happens and I'd rather be consoled by one good friend than read words on a screen. Yes, it's a show of support, but really sometimes it's best to just tune out and be with yourself. Or hug it out, like Wes said.
      I'm glad you were able to share the cat post. If anything, she knows she's not alone in her grief.

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  9. This question would've been so much easier a few years ago. Grief is, for me, a very personal and private thing. The idea of sharing the loss of a loved one on such a public forum would have been anathema to me. Now though, with my family and a great many of my friends 10,000 miles away on the other side of the planet this might be the only way to share sorrow with those who are emotionally close to me.

    When my brother died, long before the advent of Facebook, or even the computer for that matter, I most strongly remember the floral offerings that were made. Nearly 400 pieces! They came from near and far across the state and across the nation. I remember the comfort I received as I went through the cards and began to write thank you notes to all who sent flowers. While a great many of them weren't able to come to the wake or the funeral, their presence was made almost palpable by the colorful, yet mute arrangements giving testimony to our shared grief.

    I reckon, that's as close a comparison as we had to social media in those days. So, the long and short of it is that each person would have to make that choice based on their own feelings about publicizing their loss. I don't look forward to the day I have to decide whether to share that with my Facebook 'family' because even now I just don't know if I want to 'put it out there' like that...

    I'll be scratching my head over this one for some time to come.

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    1. I'm with you. I guess we'll know when it happens.
      What happens to the flowers after a funeral? does the family take them or do they put them on the grave?

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  10. Social media and grief - In our fight to save Matt's life, we used FB extensively. We promoted his petition and posted some of his letters and writings to gain support for Matt. When we went to visit near the end, we tried to keep everyone informed. There were a lot of people, including you, who loved and supported Matt and they wanted to know what was going on because they cared. We felt thet we had an obligation to let everyone know what was going on. When the news came that the Governor had turned us down and we knew that the state was going to murder Matt, then we made sure that the news came from us first. That way we knew that the news was accurate and true. We did make phone calls to family and friends first, then we posted. If we didn't put it out there, then the news would. If Matt had died in some other way, such as an accident, then I doubt very seriously that we would have posted anything right away but Matt's death was and is a serious social issue and our family took advantage of the source to educate people about the "justice system" in Mississippi.

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    1. Mary,
      What you did for Matt was awesome. It allowed people to rally together, share information and console one another after his death. Social media can be a wonderful and powerful tool to bring awareness about social injustice. I remember when you first put the petition up on change.org and how quickly people began signing it. Now I know it didn't make a difference to the Governor of Mississippi, but I'm sure it made a huge difference to your family--to know that people cared.

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  11. In reply to your question about flowers, in most cases, fresh flowers (on stands and some in containers) that are sent are generally left at the grave site to cover the mound of dirt. Potted plants are given to the family to take home. In Matt's case, I ordered flowers for the chapel with the intent of taking them to the church to be used the next day in the chapel or where ever they might want them. Since Matt was cremated, we didn't have a grave site to place the flowers, so we took some of them to place on the graves of my Mom and great nephew and then the rest we took home. The next day, I took more of the fresh cut flowers to the church and was told that most of them were taken to local nursing homes and the hospital for others to enjoy. My house is still full of potted plants that were received. I am trying to keep them alive but I do not have a green thumb. I enjoy them, they remind me of Matt. I still have a couple from the funeral of my son, Jason, 5 years ago.

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Comments are welcome and appreciated!