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Expressing Condolences in the Era of Social Media

Have you ever been browsing your Facebook feed when you come across a friends post about a loved one passing away?  What was your response? Is a quick comment saying, “I am sorry for your loss” appropriate as an expression of sympathy? Is it enough?

Historically, friends and family have conveyed their condolences to those who have lost a person to death through letters of condolence, flowers, and offers of help with meals and housework. All of these are still valid and worthy ways of expressing your condolences.

The traditional ways of expressing sympathy are especially important to remember when it is a person who is elderly who is experiencing the grief. It is important to remember that people born prior to the 1950’s grew up and lived the majority of their life without any type of electronic or digital media to express their personal feelings. According to Pew Institute, 58% of the elderly (age 65 and older) now access the internet and 77% of seniors have cell phones, many of them do not use these as often as younger people do. Some elderly people may consider electronic communication as less personal and meaningful.

Email condolences, texts, and messages on Facebook or through other social media platforms can be appropriate depending on how close you are to the person experiencing the loss. It can also be affected by how often that person communicates with you via that electronic method. If it is an acquaintance or coworker with whom you have no outside of work relationship, these methods of condolence are considered appropriate. If, however, it is a friend or family member a text or message may be appropriate but should be followed up with a more formal letter or card. Social media platforms provide quick ways to express sympathy.

According to Miss Manners, a handwritten letter or card is still the most appropriate way to send condolences and letters or cards of condolence are still highly regarded as ways to express sympathy. Whether writing a letter on stationery or including a note in a purchased sympathy card, personalized notes can be truly meaningful to those experiencing loss. These letters and cards provide a place where you can share a personal story or memory of the loved one that may provide comfort to those left behind. Those left behind will know that you care and that you truly knew their loved one.

Even in this electronic age, it is still appropriate and often more meaningful to send a handwritten letter or card to express condolences. Social media can be incorporated into the giving of condolences and sympathy, but is not yet accepted as full replacements for the more traditional approaches. The younger the person you are expressing sympathy to the more acceptable it may be to use only electronic communication. When in doubt the tried and true- a letter, a card, or flowers is probably still the most effective and meaningful way to express your condolences.

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