Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sharing Bad News on Facebook

Facebook has become THE place to share good news. Engagements, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries - Facebook enables me to participate in my friends' happy events even though we are far apart and, often, haven't seen one another in person for years.

But what do you do when the news is bad? Does Emily Post have a proper etiquette for announcing on new media when someone dies? Someone close up and personal - not a Michael Jackson or a Teddy Kennedy.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that my Facebook Friend Andy was putting together beautiful photograph albums of his wife and posting them. There were childhood photos of her with her sister and photos of her and Andy in their younger years. One day, Andy announced that he would be taking a break from blogging. And somehow I knew that something was wrong.

Andy's wife had been battling breast cancer since before we met. She had spent several years in remission. Two years ago, Andy and I were taking a class together. Little by little, our fellow students found it difficult to come. When it came down to the two of us, the teacher gently suggested it was time to abandon the class. Shortly afterward, I learned from my cousin that Andy's wife was ill again. In one of life's funny twists, while I was becoming friends with Andy, my cousin was teaching at the same school as his wife.

I sent Andy a note when I learned about Carol. I knew I couldn't be much help, but I knew from my own year as a parent fighting for a child with cancer that any word of support is a blessing. My cousin actually arranged for the three of us to go to a book signing together during one of Carol's strong periods. But she canceled at the last minute, so we never met.

When Andy stopped blogging, I knew something was wrong and alerted my cousin. Three days later, I got an email, "Thanks for the heads-up. I guess you saw the obituary this morning."

Of course, Andy was silent. And I did not think that saying what I had on my mind was "being sad because Andy's wife died today." It was not my sad news to spread. And I could imagine how outraged Andy would be to have his wife's death announced without his knowledge on Facebook.

So I emailed each of our mutual friends. Not everyone reads the obits. And Carol had kept her maiden name. They were grateful that I contacted them, and some of them attended the memorial service.

Several days after the funeral, Andy was back on Facebook thanking his friends for their support and receiving more condolences in return.

Still, there was a moment when I considering posting the "news." And I'm glad I didn't.


Yvonne Battle-Felton said...

I remember reading somewhere in a writing class that everyone deserves to tell their own story, but if you don't someone else will tell it for you and you just might not like the way it sounds--or something similar.

I agree, it was Andy's news to share and you handled it thoughtfully and even better than sharing a status message, you individually contacted people who could reach out on their own.

Thanks for the reminder that just because I can write about something--doesn't mean it's my story to tell.

Nadine said...

It was a learning experience for me. I think this whole world of sharing on line will require some adjustment. Thanks for commenting.

Sheila Ruth Siler said...

This made me think, we are too quick to share sometimes on Facebook - and you're right, we should only share what is ours and not others news.

Anonymous said...

Sound thinking. And very decent way to handle things, I think.