Q: My friend Jay died last year, and his wife is still using his Facebook account. It’s creepy to see Jay “liking” or “sharing” things. How can I politely tell her it's wrong to use their Facebook after someone dies?
Clearly, you are freaked out because your friend is coming back from the dead to speak to you. You had a relationship with Jay, so now every time this comes up it makes you think of him and the fact that he died. You re-live that grief all over again, including the fact that you can’t respond, because you can’t talk to Jay anymore. You know it’s his wife, but it’s still jarring to see Jay’s face.
If you are responding this way then you probably had a close relationship with Jay, and you are grieving in a different way from his wife. But here’s the thing. Your way of grieving doesn't trump hers. We each grieve differently, and you need to respect her grief.
Using their Facebook after someone dies can be a way to stay connected to a deceased spouse. For example, I know widows who wear their husbands’ T-shirts to bed. I know some who keep their husbands’ cell phones so they can log in and hear their beloved on voicemail. In military families, I have seen widows take their husbands’ T-shirt collection and make quilts out of it. Many military families take the deceased’s portrait and turn a room in their house into kind of a shrine, with the trophies, badges and the flag from the burial. I also saw this with a lot of families of first responders who died in 9/11.
I’ve seen people pick up the sport that their deceased husband or wife played. Widows and widowers who go to their spouse’s family reunions even after the death. I met a man who even joined his deceased wife’s art group and started painting, as a way to stay connected to her.
I’m just saying, weird as it may seem, logging into his Facebook could be a coping skill for her. She may be visiting Facebook when she’s feeling down and missing Jay. You are only seeing her outward-facing posts and likes, but there’s a lot of rich internal content as well - photos, videos, memories. In many ways, Facebook has become our modern-day time capsule.
The reality is that using Facebook after someone dies is actually speaking from someone else’s space, and that’s awkward. Maybe when she clicks “like” she doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but she may not realize how that’s coming across to others. Not everyone knows that you can “memorialize” a deceased person’s Facebook after someone dies.
You do have the option is to manage some of this yourself, from your own Facebook account. Facebook allows you to “unfollow” whichever friends you choose. You stay friends and stay connected, so you can still visit that friend’s page. But you won’t receive any more notifications about that friend’s posts or activities.
Whether you choose to say something to her or not, realize that she may not care. Someone else may even have already spoken with her. She may just need to keep on with what may be a powerful connection for her. And that’s ok.