Death. It’s blunt, sad and sometimes sudden. Recently, my friend’s sister passed in a freak accident. I didn’t know what to do, since she was away at school and we aren’t that close anymore. When faced with the internal debate, do I call, text or send a card? What is the appropriate response to such a tragedy? And am I the only one stuck in this terrible limbo of not knowing how to respond to such a situation?
Everything is changing, and I mean everything. What was once done in person — business conversations, interviews, discussions of serious or emotional topics or even something as simple as asking someone on a date — is now acceptable to be done via phone call, text or the Internet.
Jo Bryant of Debrett’s, a specialist publisher of proper British etiquette, wrote “Technology and Manners” in September, breaking down what was proper etiquette when utilizing technology.
“Technology facilitates fast and easy communication, but keeps contact at a distance,” Bryant said. “Remember to pick up the telephone regularly or, better still, see people in person rather than relying on quick, impersonal updates.”
A problem with the fast rate at which news hits social media or is shared via text is one of sensitivity. Within hours of someone’s death, breaking stories are shared on Facebook, tweeted out via Twitter or texted among one another. News spreads fast. But how does that affect the people that lost someone?
“News of Dad’s Death, Spread on Facebook” written by Amanda MacGregor in April on modernloss.com, gives her narrative of a tragic accident and death of her father. Before her family notified her, the story had already hit Facebook.
“Time to privately mourn, or even just take a breath before deciding how to announce a death, seems like a quaint thing of the past,” MacGregor said. “The realization didn’t hit me until this whole mess went down that the actual news and what happens in the immediate aftermath are now tweet-worthy tidbits, Facebook posts, or quick texts arriving with a cheeky ping.”
Bryant reminds us that texts are good for short messages to one another, but they aren’t as appropriate for longer stories or sensitive topics.
The debate I was having was not only choosing the most respectful and appropriate form to contact her, but also finding the best way to show sympathy — something I personally don’t think could be portrayed over a text message, Facebook post or tweet.
That’s one of my biggest problems with texting — it can’t convey the emotion that my emotional wastebasket self sometimes needs to convey. It seems to be a present problem in arguments as well. The amount of times that I have gotten into a disagreement with a friend because he or she did not understand my tone through words has escalated since I became an avid texter.
The family of my friend’s recently deceased sister has shut out the world, staying off of Facebook, keeping the TV off and keeping newspapers off the porch. Seeing their loved one’s name mentioned in the name of such a misfortune only furthers the pain that they already feel.
“I now watch in revulsion as people jump to post about deaths on Facebook or share a news story link or publicly speculate about the circumstances,” MacGregor said. “I can’t help but think: You vultures. Back away. Someone has died; someone’s family is grieving. Just because we can find and share news at any given second doesn’t mean we should.”
Although one may think they are being helpful in posting the love that they have for the person that has died, has anyone ever thought, maybe peace and silence is really what they need? To be alone with their thoughts. To recollect themselves and figure out a way to move on, rather than being bombarded with “I’m sorry” and “I love you” from people they haven’t heard from in the last 10 years.