As promised, a follow up to my previous blog on my research regarding grief and Facebook (you can read the first part here!)
RQ2: What do users write about when commenting on the profile page of a deceased friend?
Expressing Grief and Loss
Many friends expressed how lost or sad they felt with their friend gone; “I miss you,” really became a prevelant theme in almost all posts. One user writing, “Miss you Joe... still tryin' to wake up from this 9 month dream...” and another still states, “I miss you and think about you all the time.. I hope you will do it big up in heaven, and don’t worry, we’ll do it big down here for you.”
Another way in which individuals wrote to the deceased was to say share a memory they had with the deceased prior to their passing and events that recently occurred that brought it up. One friend writes:
so today I had to take Joe to the ER because he was feeling sick and his vitals machine was beeping like crazy and he was so annoyed with it, just like you used to be. So I got up and silenced it for him, and then cried because I learned how to do that because of you. I didnt like being in a hospital because I only ever went to them for you. today I noticed I was wearing your shoes, your sunglasses and your bracelet, and even though those things make me a little sad, it's like Im brining you on my silly day adventures.
Your brother was just here, but he can't sniff out the twizzlers like you!!! But theres no one like you thats for sure!! I love reading all the comments and I think... as many hearts are hurting right now that you're not here, is the amazing number of hearts you touched!! Thats quite an accomplishment in 16 years!!! Thank you for watching over the crew.. they need it... but they're keeping it together!!! I love you big boy!!!
Birthdays, holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.), other dates of importance to the deceased (would-be graduation, elections, etc.), and the anniversary of their death lead to a spike in posts. For example, one user posted on the deceased’s wall on the popular stoner holiday 4/20, “miss you like crazy. it still doesn't seem real..hope you smoked one for me up there today.” Another example:
"welcome to the jungle, and I'm the lion" it'll be two years tomorrow and you are still thought about and talked about almost everyday. Although your time was cut short, we all are thankful for having you in our lives. You were the one to put a smile on anyone's face when they were having a bad day. I will forever remember that beautiful smile and your silly laugh. Thank you for watching over all of us and keeping us safe. We are lucky to have a great guardian angel like you. ! Please be with your mom and sister tomorrow, I know it'll be a rough day for them but they have the love and support from all of your friends and family behind them. Give them the strength to smile when they think about you and celebrate your life. Love you and miss you Geoffmo ! Always & Forever!
Here we see that the anniversary of the death renews grief for members of the social network, increasing the likelihood that they search for ways to communicate their grief.
Frustration over Death
In the case of suicide (as well as other sudden or accidental deaths), individuals within the social network expressed both anger with themselves and the deceased now that they were gone, one example being: “where have you gone... i need you in my life.. we all do dude... why did you have to go?” Sometimes the frustration was not direct at the deceased, but at the self:
Days are flying by so quickly, but I still think about you constantly. It might not be healthy, but I do. You really touched my life in ways others wish they could. I'm just so angry with myself for never really expressing how much I really appreciated you. Your number is still saved in my phone and I dial your number sometimes praying that you would pick up. I miss your voice, your humor and most of all your presence. I miss you
All of these findings show how the continued presence of a profile can act as an outlet for conversation between the deceased and friends in their social network. More specifically, we're able to see from the posts how friends talk through their frustration or feelings of loss, as well as to remember the happy times/fond memories, while also taking the time on important dates to honor those they have lost.
While the content analysis of wall posts cannot definitively say the reason behind why users wrote on the wall of their deceased friend: the content of the messages makes it clear that just by finding a way to continue to communicate with some aspect of the deceased (a profile page they created) that friends are able to cope with the grief they are feeling.
The results from this research lead us to two key takeaways:
1. Knowing that college students frequently use Facebook and that they will most likely experience the loss of one friend during their time in college (Balk, 2011), its important to continue research into the effectiveness of the maintenance of a friendship with the deceased through the site in the long term.
2. By acknowledging that the FB profile page of the deceased is a probable location for the bereaved to communicate about their loss, society can help to ensure that these avenues remain open to members of the social network, increasing awareness that the existence of the pages help members cope with the loss of a loved one.