The other day one of my Facebook friends posted an interesting article on the impact social media has had on grieving. The gist of the article is about allowing families to disseminate news of their grief in their own terms, which is a good lesson to teach, but it was a sub-sub-sub-point which drew my interest. The immediate moment in which grief strikes is intimate, in which even extroverts will tend to contract their friendship circles close to their person. In our socially connected world, however, when a moment of grief is shared it tends to create an eruption of contacts from well-meaning well-wishers. This is understandable, and in times past this would have consisted of neighbors and friends showing up at the home to offer condolences, provide for immediate needs, or make certain “normal” tasks are completed while a family might be incapacitated.
In our world, it leads to endless dings, whistles, and buzzes. Each of which requires a grieving person to shift their attention to their electronic device. Rather than condolences providing helping hands, words of kindness can become burdensome. No one intends for this to be so, but it happens nevertheless.
This got me thinking about what pastoral advice I can give to families wrestling with grief in the socially networked world. While my thoughts are best applied for families who have some time to prepare for grief, they may also be applied “in the crucible” through which grief passes.
First, Be Aware Of Who Is Sharing News
Families should need to know who will be sharing the news of a death or other tragedy. This doesn’t have to be one designated communication agent 1, but families should let one another know, “I’ll be posting this.” That way no one is blindsided when an acquaintance texts, “I just saw it on [so and so’s] wall. I’m so sorry.” As a pastor I always ask permission to share news for just this reason.
Second, Turn Off Notifications
It’s important for families to understand they do not have to respond right away to every text, message, or comment they receive. They need space to breathe, and gain their footing, as they enter a season of grieving. To this end, as a pastor I think it might be my duty to teach people about “do not disturb” mode.
When this mode is enabled messages continue to be received, but no notification is given when they arrive — on iOS even phone calls won’t ring 2. This relieves those who are fresh in the throws of grief more power over how and when they respond to people’s messages of condolence. Better yet, contact lists can be created which are permitted to break through “do not disturb.” This way immediate family, pastoral care, and funeral home contacts can retain direct contact with mourners. When this is set up, any buzz on the phone is an automatic statement, “This is someone with whom you want to be in contact now.”
Third, Say “No!” Group Texts
While group texts might be an easy way to contact multiple people the same information, they can get out of hand at the best of times. A moment of immediate grief is not the best of times. It’s perfectly ok to share information one to one, and invite others to pass any necessary information on. Endless buzzing can be burdensome. The buzzing of group texts about things a person has no desire to know, from those who have been given a pass through the “do not disturb” wall, can become infuriating.