Dead Facebook Friends Haunt the Living

Suzanne Murray

facebook memorialize pageA few years ago, I got a Facebook friend request from a young woman who interned in the office where I used to work. I didn't recognize her name at first, but I saw that she had "friended" all of my former coworkers and I realized who she was.

Lisa was a frequent status updater so I really got to "know" her -- and I liked her a lot. She was funny and outgoing, always positive, always doing interesting things. She was one of those Facebook friends whose updates you really enjoy; the ones that make you smile.

Although we never once interacted through Facebook, I followed her love life -- she was dating a guy in England, and it was obvious she was head over heels in love. She always did an update when she was crossing the pond to see him or he'd be visiting stateside. She posted photos of all the fun things they did together. I followed her career too -- she had worked at a home magazine and was an aspiring interior designer. She had just started a job at a small design firm and was doing some decorating of her own on the side. She posted photos of rooms she had done over and they were simply gorgeous. I was in the market for a new home and was considering hiring her to help me make it into someplace special once I finally bought a place.

I jumped for joy the day I read her status update about "The Ring." She had gotten engaged and posted photos showing off her engagement ring. Soon after her status update was "Shopping for wedding gowns," and then, "Got my gown today!"

Not a week later, I received an event invite to attend her funeral services.

I was very confused. I didn't know what was going on. I e-mailed one of our mutual friends, and she told me that Lisa had died in her sleep the night after she bought her wedding gown. She had suffered from an autoimmune disease her entire life and it finally took her while she was sleeping ... probably dreaming about her wedding. My heart broke.

I had only gotten to know this special young woman through Facebook and I couldn't imagine how sad those who knew her in "real" life were feeling. Her friends and family continued to write on her wall about how much they missed her. Every once in a while someone would post a photo of her or write a funny or heartwarming anecdote. A few months after her death, her fiance posted a photo gallery tribute to her. It was beautiful.

According to an article in The New York Times, the death of a member is something Facebook hasn't quite figured out how to handle. The company doesn't always know when someone has died, and formerly, Facebook deleted the deceased's profile immediately. But now, the company recognizes the importance of finding a way to preserve those pages as a place where the mourning process can be shared online. So Facebook offers a formal way of commemorating friends -- but not many people know about it.

To memorialize a profile, a family member or friend must fill out a form on the site and give provide proof of the death (a link to an obituary or news article), which a staff member at Facebook will review. The member's profile is then changed into a tribute page where friends can still post messages. The tribute pages are stripped of some personal information and they no longer appear in search results or automated reminders.

None of Lisa's family or friends has formally memorialized her page, and Facebook keeps suggesting I reconnect with her.

If only I could.


Image via the New Memorialize a Profile Feature -- Campaign for Changes/Facebook

Read More