When her mother died, one pal simply posted two lovely photographs of her on Facebook. By contrast, another friend did not note her mom's death on her page and, for months, stopped using the social-networking site. To her, it suddenly seemed too frivolous.
In the old days, Americans paid for short, not-so-personal obituaries in the local newspaper. They still can, of course, but they can also decide whether to publicly memorialize a loved one on Facebook.
What should you do? Follow your gut instinct. "Grieving is such a personal process," says Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. "It's always difficult to call out one way that we should grieve." You might want to factor in how your mom or dad felt about social networking. "If it's someone who loved using Facebook and had a great group of friends on it, it's totally appropriate," says Turner.
Facebook friends can provide support and make you feel better. Among other things, they can share experiences. Posing on Facebook "broadens the reach and the opportunity to get empathic feedback from people," says Carl Hindy, a psychologist in Nashua, N.H., and author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? It may even lead to some closer friendships. Still, you may want to more personally and individually tell the people who are closest to you, he says.
Consider whether you've been posting all along about a parent's extended illness. "Then when the person dies, it would seem a necessary and logical thing to continue the conversation," says Hindy. "You don't just drop off Facebook after your mother has died after others have been supporting you and devising ways to modify your home…You've already started everyone with you in the grieving process."
Previously Facebook friends may have helped you handle "caretaker fatigue," says Hindy. "So often we baby boomers are in the position of helping elderly parents and family members through their later years and the proverbial slippery slope of cascading medical problems and loss of functioning. People need support through all of that." Enter social networking. "It might become even more important at that time because their schedules are so filled with tasks of caring that only late at night, or early in the morning, do they have a chance to 'talk,'" says Hindy. "Facebook is always open."
Posting a death on Facebook is a "natural extension" of that process, says Hindy. "It's bringing it full circle." It may also help Facebook friends who are going through the same process now or who will go through it, he says. "It sets an expectation of support and sharing that could be comforting for those folks for whom it'll be next year's task."