How do I use digital technology to let people know about a funeral?
September 30, 2013 2:40 PM   Subscribe

My grandfather is likely to die within the next few months. I am trying to figure out how, when it comes to that point, to inform people of the time of the funeral and the shiva, because I do not want to have to think about this when he dies. I do not want to phone or text anyone except two or three of my close friends. How do I inform other people?

I have some people I email, I have some people I connect with via facebook. My facebook friends include my cousins. I assume I can send a mass email with the funeral info, but how can I deal with those people I don't email? I could post to my facebook wall, but that disappears. I could make an event, but that is sort of weird (do I make two, one for the funeral and one for the shiva?). Is it okay to make an event and invite all my facebook friends (which includes high school acquaintances who I don't particularly feel strongly about, but it's a lot easier than making the decision person by person), or should I restrict it to localish ones, and/or localish ones who I am not also emailing? Should I invite my cousins? Should I block them? Should I make them co-creators of the event? What about other extended family who will find out through family channels?

I tend to hate coming across at all needy, which pushes me to "don't tell a soul!" That said, it would mean a lot to me if my friends came to either the funeral or the shiva or both. I also don't know what is the usual etiquette for this -- I've had few friends with local grandparents die.
posted by jeather to Human Relations (16 answers total)
Get people's emails ahead of time, deal with it entirely on email. You don't have to email them regularly to do this through email. Message anyone who your interaction with is solely on Facebook now to ask for email addresses, and get them all in a list so you can just send one email when it's time.

If you're worried about missing someone on facebook, you could make a post saying your grandfather died and to email you (and put in your email address) if they'd like funeral/shiva details, and pre-emptively apologizing for perhaps not catching everyone who might be interested in your state of grief.

Do NOT make a facebook event and invite all of your facebook friends. If I were facebook friends with you and we had maybe known each other in high school and hadn't spoken in 5 years and I'd never met your grandfather and I got a facebook invitation to your grandfather's funeral... I would feel very, very weird about that.
posted by brainmouse at 2:46 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

discuss this with your close friends - have one of them volunteer to take your list (or split the list between them) and when the time comes you contact the 2 or 3 friends and they take care of everyone else.

i'm sorry you're going through this and i think you're right to figure out the details you can before things get more fraught.
posted by nadawi at 2:49 PM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

The usualy etiquette is that one places a phone call to each person to inform them of your loss, then you verbally tell each person the details.

If you want, you can do a phone tree kind of thing, deptutize a few folks who are willing to help out.

My cousin told everyone on Facebook, which was awful and tacky. Don't do that!

A mass email is more the modern way to deal.

Word it now, and have it ready to go, so you don't have to think too hard about it when you're dealing with so much other stuff.

Start gathering emails now, and have little conversations with folks about how they want to be notified.

Also, talk with your Grandpa, ask him what he wants, engage him, tell him how much you love him. Leave nothing unsaid.

A funeral of someone who lived a great life, who is being remembered how he wanted to be remembered and who knows how much he was loved is not a sad thing.

Hang in there kiddo.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:50 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few friends have recently gone through this and they created websites using free blogging services. The website had information on services (with directions and maps), a repository of old photos, an area where people could leave comments with remembrances, and information about where to send flowers or donate in lieu of flowers. The website link was sent in a mass bcc'd email and also announced on Facebook. Do not make a FB event.

Don't make your email a place where endless streams of people contact you asking the same questions over and over. Create a website where you can send them to pick up all of the info.

Coordinate these tasks with your relatives/cousins so that you can cooperate and not duplicate efforts. Older relatives may need phone calls. Divvy all of those tasks up before the passing.
posted by quince at 2:55 PM on September 30, 2013

This has come up a number of times among acquaintances of mine. Note that all of my sample set is some flavor of christian, so I imagine that this would be adapted appropriately.

Folks tend to send a group email and do a facebook post (or several facebook posts) saying something like "grandpa's service is this Saturday--all the details are here: [link]"

The link always points to the funeral home's website, where there's a short blurb (not a full obit) about the deceased and details about the funeral, wake, in-lieu-of-flowers donation info, etc. From what I've observed, this seems to be a pretty standard thing that funeral homes have.

It's very passive, lets folks know what has happened, and gives a bit of information if they want to get it themselves. It seems to be the new standard for such announcements now.

If any of your close relatives are heavily involved in any organizations, let them know as well maybe. I grew up in a very small, tight-knit private school community, and announcements for people whose family was pretty well known at the school (several kids went there, had a parent who taught there or coached there, etc) get emailed out to the alumni list to pass the information on to anyone who might have wanted to know.
posted by phunniemee at 2:55 PM on September 30, 2013

The death of a close family member should be told individually (in person or on the phone), not by mass email. This is your cousin's grandfather too. If you don't feel up to making many phone calls, could you identify a cousin/aunt/etc that would make a better contact person who could make the rest of the phone calls? You or a family member should contact the other family members, and you or a close friend can tell the rest of your friends.

You could have this friend tell the rest of your friends about the funeral and shiva information, or you could make a facebook status message with the funeral and/or shiva info (avoids all the invitation issues of an event). But please make sure that all of your family members know of the death first if you go the facebook route. There's nothing worse than waking up and finding out the guy in your cousin's high school gym class knew your grandfather passed away before you did. If you are mentioning anything on facebook, you might want to run that by your family in case they want a small funeral (unlikely, but this is often more of an issue when a younger person passes away).
posted by fermezporte at 3:11 PM on September 30, 2013

Hopefully you have some close friends or family who have volunteered to help -- people often don't know what they can do to help. Pick someone who is good at breaking news to people and ask if they can call a list of family members and close friends of your grandfather's when the time comes.
posted by yohko at 3:26 PM on September 30, 2013

Response by poster: I'm not actually worried about informing my family members. They will all find out through the normal channels and I will be involved in letting people know that way as my family requests. The question about family was specific to "what if I make an event?", sorry I wasn't clear. I'm also not worried about informing friends of my grandfather (he has often complained he has outlived them all, and I can only think of 3 or 4 people left) or of my parents (they will let me know if they want me to tell anyone).

Let's assume I am talking about informing my friends -- who I do not phone pretty much ever -- only.
posted by jeather at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2013

especially in that case i think a call tree is in order - you inform 1 or 2 or 3 and they take care of emails, DMs, etc. that also takes care of the needy issue - you just need to tell the 1 or 2 or 3 people now that you don't like to feel needy, but it would mean a lot to you if people made an effort to support you and then when the time comes it is their job to relay your desires so you don't have to do it when you're already feeling raw and unable to reach out.
posted by nadawi at 3:51 PM on September 30, 2013

You email your closest friends, and they will probably ensure that your circle of friends knwos the news. Two days after my grandmother died, I posted a few lines of a poem that has meaning in my family, then her name + years of her life. People then reached out if they wanted/needed more info about attending, including family that already knew, but dind't want to hassle my mother for the details of the service.
posted by larthegreat at 3:51 PM on September 30, 2013

I am as techy as they come but I would strongly argue that if your relationship with someone is so tenuous that you don't even have their email address, you have no business sharing a funeral and shiva with them. If there are people you typically connect with via Facebook but could email, I would echo calls to gather their email addresses now so that a mass email can suffice.
posted by telegraph at 4:21 PM on September 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

lots of people don't use email anymore - they use facebook or twitter DMs for most personal, non-public, interactions. i think contacting them through the place you know them/regularly interact with them is perfectly fine.
posted by nadawi at 6:06 PM on September 30, 2013

I have quite a number of good friends that don't have emails for. I used a phone tree in this situation and it worked well. I did let people know ahead of time what was coming and that they might be notified by a person other than me.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:08 PM on September 30, 2013

I'm seconding telegraph. Unless you were exceptionally close to your grandfather and this will profoundly impact your everyday life, then it's not something you need to make into an email blast for people who don't even know him. I think a Facebook status update with a picture of him and his burg and death years and a zichrono l'vvracha is appropriate, and is the closest thing we moderns have to an obit in the universally read local newspaper. Whoever misses it but needs to know will find out from you when they need to know.

What is shiva like in your community? Are you talking about the traditional week of sitting shiva, or 3 days, or really just a post funeral event? My experience with extended shiva is that it's usually the immediate family and their loved ones, close surviving friends, the religious community and maybe a rabbi coming to make or get minyan. A casual friend wouldn't show up unless they were in the neighborhood or asked to.

If you have friends you particularly want to come to the shiva house, either you or your closest person should phone or email them as individuals and tell then that it would mean a lot to you for them to be there. If you have friends who knew him and you think would want to come to the funeral and/or shiva, then I think a (small) mass email is good. If you don't have their email, then phone them. If you don't have either their phone or their email address then they're really not the appropriate recipients of a death announcement.

Even if it's really a post funeral event you're talking about, think about who you would really want to be there, whose grandparent whom you've never met funeral you would go to, and reach out to them.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:29 PM on September 30, 2013

This is the purpose of Caring Bridge. Set up a free page now. Upload a couple of photos of your grandpa. Fill out the brief profile about him and his health. Use the built-in notification options to spread the word about this page. You can send it out to your address book, post it to your Facebook, give the link (and maybe multiple admin privileges) to your cousins. It will be something as simple as People can share the link freely depending on how you set permissions.

Once the profile is set up and announced, Caring Bridge serves three main purposes:
1) Admins can post to this page at any time, changes in health, more photos, thank yous, etc., not completely unlike Facebook in that people who view the page will see the updates;
2) Anyone who knows about the page can subscribe to it, thus getting an email announcement when an admin posts something new. As such, they will get the auto-generated email that says something like "There has been a new post to grandpasname page on Caring Bridge entitled 'we say goodbye to grandpa'."
3) Visitors to the site are welcome to sign the guestbook with greetings, stories, remembrances, etc., which you could then read to him.

If you set it up now and update it any time you think is notable, and periodically remind people about it, hopefully they'll sign up for reminders. Then, when he does die, you may post a nicely written message to the site along with any event information and people will automatically be notified. Check it out, and I'm very sorry for your loss. I hope this helps.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:45 PM on September 30, 2013

Most funeral homes will have an online guest book. That, and printing a brief obit in the paper of record (seriously, you still need to do this as many of his contemporaries are not active in social media). You will tell a close friend, and they will "mention" that a guestbook is available. Word will get around. Even in pre- Social Media days we had over 300 people attend my father's services.
I still feel it is rather poor taste to announce a close relative or friend's death in Social Media. You can however wait a few days and offer your own thoughts on what a great person he was etc.
posted by Gungho at 7:05 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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