By Bob Livingstone
I have been one of the fiercest critics of America’s fixation with electronic devices. In an age where adults and children of all walks of life have their heads buried in the latest phone or tablet; face to face communication is at an all time low. Matter of fact, many children are very uncomfortable with direct communication, preferring to text or Facebook their friends.
However, I feel that when someone loses a loved one through death, social media and texting can be helpful tools in the grieving process. The bereaved at one time had to rely on friends or other family members to inform everyone about this devastating and sometimes abrupt loss.
Now the person in mourning can send a group text or a Facebook message to announce the death and to inform what the funeral plans will be. If you have lost a lover, close friend or family member, contacting all the folks who would want to know about the death could be an overwhelming job.
Now through a few clicks, all will be informed. The bereaved can also write down his initial feelings about the loss setting the tone for other’s responses. For example, If John’s wife died after a long battle with cancer, he may write a short profound note or he may share more details about his feelings. His friends can then decide to write a brief response or a longer one.
It is common for friends and family of those who lost a loved one not to know how to approach folks in a traumatic state. There is a school of thought that you shouldn’t bring up anything that will remind your friend of the recent death. There is another belief that those in grieving need to talk so it is fine to bring up issues regarding the death.
The reality is that everyone has different needs. There is no cookie cutter approach that is useful here. However, if you text your friend, “I really miss Emily. Her smile always light up the room.” Your friend may or may not respond. His reply may be one that expresses deep appreciation for your memory or he may be too overwhelmed to answer you. He will have the text on his phone to refer to when he’s ready to face painful memories. You must be prepared that he may not immediately reply and you shouldn’t take it personally.
It is possible to have written conversation with your friend about her loss through electronic devices that may be too painful to have face to face. Lots of folks are too distraught to have much face to face discussion immediately after the death of a loved one. They are reluctant to show their vulnerability to anyone outside their closest circle. They particularly don’t want to cry in front of others because in American society, tears are seen as a sign of weakness. This is an unfortunate myth that is upheld daily.
Therefore it may be easier for your friend to convey her feelings through a text message because the impersonal aspects of indirect communication provide a level of safety for her at this point of her loss.
You may be wanting to reach out to your friend whose mother died. Instead of waiting to get together and losing the momentum of what you want to express, you can text or Facebook him. Social media while reinforcing those who are impulsive, also provides a forum for those who want to pass on a thought or feeling immediately. These thoughts and feelings can be powerful words that provide healing for those in despair. A group discussion can then connect several folks who are hurting and they can find strength and solace together.
Social media and texting don’t take the place of direct, face to face communication. They can be tools for preparing and setting the stage for looking into your friend’s eyes and hearts. You cannot hug your friend through social media. You cannot see their tears and they cannot fully experience your compassion in cyberspace.
– Bob Livingstone is the author the critically acclaimed Unchain the Pain: How to be Your Own Therapist, Norlights Press 2011, The Body Mind Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise, Pegasus Books, 2007 and Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy, Booklocker 2002. He is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker in private practice in The San Francisco Bay Area and has nearly twenty five years experience working with adults, adolescents and children.