This — the latest installment of my recurring observations on Facebook — has me eyeing the social medium as one that no longer offers the ease of quickly surfing one’s news feed, chuckling/shaking one’s head and depositing a few likes, loves and emojis.
Going through one’s Facebook news feed is work these days, and I’m not being flippant here. Not only is it work, it’s often sobering work.
Yes, the borrowed smart-aleck memes and the “what I had for lunch/dinner” pictures are still there. But nowadays, it seems, Facebook is full of posts that command serious contemplation, empathy, support. It’s certainly become the means to ramp up one’s prayer life.
As someone who has nearly 3,000 friends and sometimes goes days or weeks without peeping at Facebook, I’m usually caught by surprise when I check the news feed and see so many posts bringing the announcement that a friend, or a friend’s loved one, has fallen ill and is fighting for health, if not life. It’s worse when the ill person is someone I’d considered more than a casual friend and feel I should have known was in distress.
Then there are the deaths. The year 2020 saw far too many friends losing loved ones to covid-19 and other causes. The day I wrote this column, a friend who’d been keeping everyone posted about her spouse announced his passing. (It’s also tough seeing the posts of those who have lost longtime, beloved pets. It was Facebook that introduced me to the phrase “crossing the rainbow bridge.”)
I’m sometimes afraid to look at my news feed, but feel guilty if I don’t. And, when a friend does post about a death, I find myself reluctant to comment. To me, typing in the same few comments — “I’m so sorry for your loss,”https://www.arkansasonline.com/”My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family,”https://www.arkansasonline.com/”Sending my deepest condolences” — starts to feel somewhat fraud-ish, especially when so many others have posted the same comment word for word. Sometimes I just type, “Condolences. Prayers. Hugs,” and leave it at that. Then I cringe at the thought of that person, even in the middle of their grief, cynically thinking, “Well, here’s the same comment for the [millionth] time.”
The happy posts can also be work. Take the birthdays, for instance. It’s not just the Facebook reminders of our friends’ birthdays. It’s the Facebook friends who urge everyone to give birthday shout-outs to spouses, sweethearts, parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins and whoever else is special to them. Then there are the anniversaries, birth announcements, and the like. Here again, I usually feel too guilty to simply scroll past.
For these announcements, Facebook has tried to ease the load by providing us with labeled stickers … goodwill comments illustrated with our skinny, blemish-free, customized cartoon likenesses. For the solemn announcements, Facebook offers not only the “sad” and “care” emojis, but allow us to leave a praying-hands symbol to indicate that we’ve added that friend to our prayer list. I’m among those who often post a row of three pairs of praying hands to emphasize the intention to pray for that friend.
Such is the information highway that, due to cyberspace in general and social media in particular has gained so many lanes, entrance ramps, exit ramps … and potholes. We now know more than we ever thought we’d know about the vicissitudes of even our most casual acquaintances. That information comes at us all at once. And sometimes, processing it and dealing with it in ways that show we care can be overwhelming.
The best way we can deal with it? Take the proverbial deep breath. Know, especially if we have thousands of friends, that there will inevitably be those to whom we miss out on lending our comfort or our congrats. When we do, those friends won’t sit around condemning us as uncaring boobs. Others have stepped in and offered their support for those whose posts are missing our comments. And vice versa: When we do lend our comments to a Facebook friend, we help make up for those who, for whatever reason, missed the post or didn’t comment.
I think back to 2018, when I announced the passing of my sister and grandmother-in-law, who died on successive Wednesdays in March, and 2020, when I lost my father. I read, treasured and tried to “like” every sympathy comment posted. And when I post my support for a grieving or celebrating Facebook friend, my notifications list usually informs me that my expressions of care were appreciated, no matter how repetitive I felt they were.
Yes, it can be work. But we who use Facebook, or other social media, to keep up with our online “fam” all share the load.
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