The death was announced on Facebook. The unexpected, shocking news spread like wildfire as one person after another shared the sad posting.
Soon the grieving widower’s Facebook page was flooded with beautifully touching memories and lovely pictures of his deceased partner. On the plus side, the bereft family didn’t feel quite so alone in this terrible time. Within seconds they started hearing from friends and relatives across the globe. The messages of love and caring offered real support and comfort.
But what to do with the awkwardness of Facebook? Does one “like” a status that carries such grievous news? If the status isn’t “liked,” does it indicate a lack of caring or attention? What is the “new normal” for responding to life events in the virtual age?
What sort of comment is appropriate? If one writes a heartfelt “I’m so sorry for your loss,” or “you are in my thoughts and prayers,” have the social obligations been met? Or does one still need to take that old-fashioned route of going to a store, buying a sympathy card, foraging for a stamp, and actually mailing a handwritten note?
But I wonder – does even the most carefully crafted Facebook post go far enough? Do people then feel released from the necessity of actually attending the funeral and listening to the eulogy because, after all, they’ve been in touch?
Could all of our grieving and consoling be done virtually? Should it be?
Facebook might be an unavoidable part of our everyday lives. But it isn’t a substitute for hands-on caring. Our digital friends can’t:
- Cook a meal or provide a casserole.
- Hold a hand or provide a hug.
- Sit in stunned silence. Just sit and be together in the hurt.
So – by all means, go ahead and post, tweet, chat, and share. But then show up in person. Send a tangible reminder – like flowers or a card – of your caring.
Remember, when God wanted us to know that we were loved, God gave us the gift of being incarnate – really being here, in the flesh. There is no substitute for that.
Very often the best thing we can do for one another is simply be there.
We don’t have to provide words or answers or profound sayings. But showing up matters.
We can be messengers of the Good News that God is present – really with us – exactly when we need God most.
This reflection first appeared in New Sacred – the new blog of the UCC. Please take the time to check it out!