Death on Facebook: Digital Love, Honor and Kindness


Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Bert Tippett.  I met Mr. Tippett during my first week of college. He was a teacher, a dear friend, a mentor, and role model to me of what meant to be a kind, genuine, graceful man who loved God, his family and those around him. A few years ago I had the privilege of working  alongside him in a few projects. He was one of the few people, perhaps the only one I have ever known, who was loved and respected by every person he met. His life was a true testament of God’s grace. He lived well and during the last few years, fought cancer valiantly. But Bert didn’t die alone and unappreciated. Interestingly, Facebook had a lot todo with that.

Death on Facebook. Dying in Social Media

Bert and Dianne Tippett

Mr. Tippett’s 1,904 friends on Facebook kept a steady stream of encouraging messages posted on his wall day and night since he was diagnosed with cancer over 2 years ago.  The number grew as his family posted updates of his battle. These weren’t random strangers, but people whose lives had been touched by Bert over decades.  Three different times in last’s night service we heard how much Mr. Tippett’s Facebook friends posts meant to him. Now after his passing, his family has received hundreds and soon to be thousands of messages from friends who are praying and thinking of them. The impact of this online community is powerful like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I have shed tears reading through so many heart-felt posts.

Death on Facebook. Dying well in social media

I’ve always thought of social media as a tool for connecting faith, life, and work, but in death, it’s even more powerful. While some have proclaimed the evils of Facebook, I have experienced the sacred digital ground where love, honor and kindness embraced an entire family.

What’s has your experience been with an online community?

  • Lisa Spene

    I have never thought about the impact of Facebook on those who are at the end of their lives and their families. What a wonderful tool for encouragement.

  • What a great encouragement; thanks for seeing and sharing the meaning in the madness.

  • triciagoyer

    Good post. The amazing thing about Facebook is that those who know you–from your Kindergarten friends to the lady you met yesterday–can share their appreciation … or spill the beans on those moments you wished were forgotten in history. Glad to see it's used to show love at the end.

    • Trust me, I know about things out there I don't want to remember. There' are pictures of me floating around FB I wish had never surfaced.

  • Amy

    Not so much Facebook, but I've found incredible encouragement & opportunity to encourage on Twitter. I think the reason for that is on Twitter, I'm connecting with people who, at least used to be, complete strangers, so the field is so much more diverse than the circle of people I've known throughout my life who I connect with on Facebook. What's really fun is when a Twitter-friend becomes a real-life friend and I've had that privilege – someone I met on Twitter is quickly becoming a close friend and we finally had the opportunity to meet face-to-face this past Fall. Love it!

    • Some of my closest friends are people I have met on Twitter and now are real-life friends. I love Twitter.

  • Absolutely!

    This time last year, one of my college friends was in Haiti working with Compassion International on a video shoot when the earthquake occurred. I was blown away at the testimonies of faithfulness displayed through Facebook and Twitter. I was a frequent reader on a special FB group devoted to friends and loved ones of persons (mostly Americans and Canadians) who were last seen at the Hotel Montana (where my friend, David's body, was finally recovered). That group become a cohesive and–as you say–a "sacred" space for expressions of love and sympathy. Yes–these are the God-glorifying benefits of social media. I wrote this last year in a blog post about the Haiti earthquake:

    "I am exhilarated by the unity of our voices in begging for our friend. I am encouraged by the solidarity of our purpose in rescuing David. I am touched that David—a long-lost friend who, for all intents and purposes, is now a stranger to me—has such a community of God-honoring Christ-lovers interceding on his behalf.

    The family of God is anonymous and instantly recognizable all at the same time. How wonderful Heaven will be: a great family reunion of strangers, yet kinfolk!" (Full post is here, by the way:

    Anyway–wonderful post that resonates with me.

  • tonibirdsong

    Add my name to the list of Bert Tippett fans. Just looking at him and hearing about his heart makes him so easy to love. My prayers to you, Maurilio, as you miss your friend.

    I love this post because it captures one of the billions of human moments that emerge online each day. It's important to stop and record the heartbeats that have come to truly define the communication hub of social networks. The biggest mistake we can make is thinking we are logging onto a piece of hardware or "firing up" a piece of technology. it's all about the software; the people; the relationships. Bert's life and online legacy proves that to us all.

    Thanks for the very thoughtful and honoring post.

    • Thank you and Tami for your crusade to rescue the social media space for such expressions such as this. The Sticky Jesus movement is having an impact on all of us.

  • Joseph


    I think online communities are what "YOU" make of them. In this case, FB was used in an absolute positive manner and was able to connect a ton of people who would not have been able to otherwise connect during this amazing person's final days.

    Social Media as a whole has allowed me to meet, connect, learn and share with people who I never would have. I believe it all started through my blog, and then expanded out into FB, Twitter and Foursquare.

    Last year when I was having some struggles and really did not have a strong mentor (any really) to turn to, my connections were there providing support and encouragement when it was really needed.

    I think this can also back fire if you do not "groom" your network and allow for the negative influences to enter into it.

    So, overall, my experience is amazing. Love the online community as it has allowed for new friendships, mentoring and exposure to things I would have never know about in my life.

    • Like any tool, online communities are what you make of them. I encourage people to be strategic about their online presence.

  • Angie

    For me, Facebook has been a means of reconnecting to people who were (and are) prayer partners. I appreciate the needs of others, and feel privileged to pray for and with them. Even such applications as "Save A Dog" & "Save A Cat" have motivated me to pray for those of God's creatures that have no voice. Several of my contacts frequently share Scripture or spiritual quotes; one is a Benedictine Sister who shares a bit of the Rule of Benedict every few days. Facebook isn't just trivial news for me – it's a source of spiritual growth.

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  • My experience with online community has been amazing. I rely on this crowd (including you) for inspiration and subtle correction. I hope I'm offering a bit back to the community at large, also. It's like open-source life coaching.

    On a similar note, one of my most popular posts is a eulogy I wrote for a high school friend. I honestly thought it was sort of off-subject and would only be read by a tiny niche audience. But it consistently gets hits, even almost a year later. In death, her life has become more powerful. I inadvertently contributed to maintaining the memory of some of the wonderful things she was about. It's fascinating and deeply encouraging to me that her role in my community kept on directing me even a few weeks after she was gone.

    You never know how your sharing will help someone else. Keep sharing.

  • I was a little wary of Facebook & Twitter at first, but I have found the online community to be an amazing source of encouragement, support and challenge.

    Sorry to hear about your friend. Glad he had so many friends to lean on along the way.

  • Too often, we hear of the negative side of Facebook (cyber-bullying) and not the encouraging side of stories like this one. Thanks for sharing. I vow to be an encourager!

  • Like a knife, a car, a hammer or a flame, Facebook is a tool. It can be used both for "good" or for "evil". I love to hear of encouraging stories like this that show just how effective social media can be for substance and for good. I would never have learned of or been touched by Mr. Tippett's story without it. Thanks, Maurilio!

  • Evelyn Upright

    Maurilio, as another person who knew and loved the Tippets, I am so glad for the part Face book played in keeping us all updated on Bert's condition. It gave us a chance to pray when things weren't going well. We met Bert and Diane back in 1966 when we moved to Nashville for Ken to go to Bible College. They were truly wonderful Christians, who made us feel welcome and we considered them good friends. He truly exemplified the life of Christ and is rejoicing today in his presence. Haven't heard from you in a long long time. Good to hear from you.

  • I also have experienced the overwhelming positive that Facebook and twitter can bring in hard times. 17 months ago, my 46 year old sister died suddenly. She had not been sick, we had no warning and our lives were shattered. Our sister, being the oldest, had raised us when our mother died, when I was just 11 and she was the Matriarch of our family.

    When we posted about her death, the rally of love and support that followed, was overwhelming. Heartfelt messages, encouragement, prayers and love. During a time that was so difficult, where we felt as if our world had just spun off it Axis, God used this medium, to envelope us in the stability we were needing and it overwhelmed our family.

    I enjoy Facebook. I have reconnected with old friends, it is a medium I can use to encourage others and be Gods hands and feet everyday. I believe that sites such as Facebook, twitter etc can be used however we choose and while there are always going to be people who try to do things that aren’t good, if we use it in a way to uplift others and spread God’s love, wonderful things can happen.

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