Who Will Be Your Informant (When the time comes)?

In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from high school friends that two of our classmates had died. This is not uncommon by itself, but the surprise came as I learned that one of our classmates had died two years ago, and another some three months ago. Yet, not one person we knew in common had known of their passing before now, so none of us who grew up together had any idea that we’d lost two “of our own.” That meant sorrow upon sorrow at the delay in learning of their passing.

The question was asked of me: ‘Why are we just now learning of this?’ It’s as though my profession guarantees special insight on learning of people’s passing. That’s actually just not the case. It is up to individuals and families as to whether to publish a listing as basic as a death notice (no cost to families in the local paper) or an obituary in the local papers, which is where we all learn of the passing of friends and loved ones.

It’s a longtime sweet memory when a senior friend used to tell me, “Every morning when I wake up, I reach for the newspaper and turn to the obituaries. I look for my name and if I don’t see it, then I’m still here.” She was kidding of course, but the reality is that we all used to rely on the local papers to furnish obituary listings and information regarding memorial services and burials that were scheduled.

Today that is no longer a rule but a rarity. Take our own local paper, which publishes only three times a week, with the remainder of the information found online. There is a cost associated with publishing an obituary and anything beyond a death notice in the newspaper (their fee, not ours as a funeral home) and in tight economic times, many families have found that they don’t have sufficient funds to add in that cost. Funeral homes, however, still extend the courtesy to families to post service information and obituary tributes on our own websites.

And yet, this doesn’t solve the real problem—it is up to the family or the appointed legal next of kin to supply the information and approve its being shared with the public. If the responsible party fails to share the information, this is how you wind up not knowing that your high school classmate and decades-long friend passed away two years ago without your knowing until this week.

The more that high school classes gather for 10th, 20th, 25th and 50th reunions, these are the times and occasions when people catch up with one another’s lives. Christmas cards often contain important news of the passing of loved ones, but it’s up to us to keep in touch with the class secretaries or the school administrators who can inform all of us in annual newsletters or online.

Lives get so busy for so many of us; not everyone who grew up together in high school stays in the same city and state where we grew up. So, that makes it even tougher to keep up with our contemporaries.

One additional topic I’d like to emphasize is the proper use of social media to reflect current life status. You know you’ve had this happen to you before when you wake up and grab your coffee and look at your Facebook wall and see that it is the birthday of two of your friends that day. Only one of them is still alive, but both photos and names are staring back at you on the page. That is enough to shock you awake and it’s a very strange feeling. It’s one of instant denial when you know in your mind that friend is gone and yet here looking straight into your eyes is someone logically you know to be gone. Melancholy kicks in right away and you miss them again.

One of the duties that a family member or trusted friend can be called upon to do by you, in your lifetime, is to appoint them as your legacy contact for Facebook. Click here to learn how to go about turning a ‘live’ Facebook page into a Memorial page. Doing this will preserve all the photos and comments, memories of loved ones for a long term (theoretically permanently) to come rather than deleting their account entirely.

Others might prefer simply to shut down the page and delete the Facebook account of the person who passed away. The family or preappointed legacy contact are the official persons who have the right to request status changes within Facebook operations. Having the correct information out there on social media is a great start to keeping people who loved others apprised of your actual status, and prevent unwanted shocks when information is not updated timely.

Family members who hesitate to file death notices with the local newspaper might think about not only facilitating this happening (at no cost to the family), perhaps also writing a brief obituary and having your funeral home post it, with a photograph, on their web site for the long term for all to see. You can then get a link to that same funeral home official obituary page and share it on your own Facebook pages or send it to groups who would want to know and keep up with their hometown friends and family.

The first step, of course, is to decide who you will ask to be responsible for telling others of your passing. A phone list of people to call; another list of people to e-mail; and a social media posting can be made on your own pages by your designee and help post news of your passing when the time comes. Sometimes when life ends too soon and you leave teenagers as the oldest children, it does not always occur to them how important it is that longtime friends and old school classmates be informed as soon as possible.

In reality, the younger generation is often overwhelmed just dealing with your loss so by the time they think it might be useful or important to tell your longtime friends who no longer live here of your passing, weeks and months pass and soon, they get busy doing other things and that is how it can be as many as two years before someone learns of your passing.

If family chooses not to hold formal funerals or celebrations of life, or to have a formal burial, there is no chance of coming together to pay respects and offer tributes. People need to grieve, no matter what your final wishes are. Whether they gather in the presence of your survivors or on their own, it is really something to consider so that those who love you can know of your passing in a timely manner so they can make peace with your loss when the time comes. After all, your life matters to so many people, even if you don’t hear those specific words at times in your life. You make a difference in this world and a lasting impact. Just a few things to think about.

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