The Five Stages of Facebook. And Grief.

Yes, we’ve all seen too many parodies of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief.  This isn’t another one.  Not really.

The Facebook story I planned to write dealt with ways in which people use it toward different ends and the conflict, confusion, and frustration that friends experience when their ends differ. (See the many cartoons mocking political posters and posters of food.)

But man makes plans and God laughs, as they say, and my topic has changed.  From what I’ve seen there are also five, maybe six, stages of our relationship with Facebook.

  1. Denial.  I shied away from Facebook for years.  Shy doesn’t really describe my aversion. “Who has time for that?”  “It’s a fad.  It’ll pass.” “It’s not for serious people.” This stage may include curiosity, “You’re on Facebook.  Can you look up an old high school friend for me?”
  2. Anger. “Facebook reminds me of an ongoing family holiday letter. As if we didn’t get enough of those every December.” An attempt to join quietly just to check it out led to anger and discomfort when I immediately received friend requests from several folks who’d given up their address book to Facebook to make automatic connections.  This creeped me out – too Big Brother – and I immediately canceled my Facebook presence while it was insignificant enough to erase easily.
  3. Bargaining. “I need to use Facebook to monitor what’s going on in social media regarding (fill in your own interest here).”  I began solely to follow a political campaign I worked on – the candidates, the media, supporters, volunteers, and voters.  I thought I could limit my participation to practical political research and work.  Right.
  4. Understanding.  Here’s where the stages for grief and Facebook diverge. Kubler-Ross’s 4th state is Depression.  If Facebook causes depression, opt out.  It’s not important or valuable enough.  Most of us understand its practicality as an easy way to keep in touch, keep up with an interest, or share photos and experiences.
  5. Acceptance.  Facebook may be a huge time suck, but I find enough worthwhile posts that I’d rather continue than quit.  My friends share articles, quotes, and videos I might otherwise miss. Reading their posts adds another set of sources to my news-junkie habit, and it’s nice to see what old friends are up to.
But what do these 5 stages of Facebook have to do with grief?

This week one of my son’s closest friends died.  He was 19.

His parents, who did their best to pretend Adam (not his real name) didn’t exist while he lived, continued their effort.  Adam’s friends and their parents sat in stunned silence as we learned of his parents’ plans.  No funeral.  No obituary.  No release of information as to where our friend is buried or how we can come together as a community to grieve.  As a friend who counsels teens told me, “It is tantamount to denying his existence.”

Of course Adam’s friends decided to organize a service to honor and remember his life.  Facebook allowed easy access, and they began to reach out to his hundreds of contacts.

Then, 4 days after his death, Adam’s parents took down his Facebook page.

As anyone knows who has lost someone recently, especially one who died young, Facebook has become the communal grieving place.  Friends and family leave messages on the walls of the dead for years. They connect with others who share their loss and their grief, and they write letters to the ones who’ve passed away as well.

What kind of parents stand in the way of loving friends who simply want to mourn together?  Knowing their history with Adam and others makes their behavior less surprising, but no less shocking and no less sad.

The young adults and their parents who loved this boy remain devastated, sickened, and so angry.  We will work together to create a memorial for our friend and for ourselves. We will make it happen. There will be laughter, many tears, and profound sadness.

Adam’s Facebook page could have been a helpful tool, and without it we will be missing many mourners.

Eventually our anger will subside, and I believe we will find some peace.  But I’ve entered a new stage with Facebook, one I never expected: deep appreciation.

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