Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Ask Natalie: Brothers torn apart by politics? Is it wrong to “unfriend” people on Facebook who have died?

DEAR NATALIE: My two sons are at odds politically and it is really destroying my family. They are (you guessed it) on opposing sides of the political spectrum. My younger son is very, very liberal and my older son has become incredibly conservative… he never used to be. Because of the pandemic, they are both at home. My younger son is in high school and his courses are all online. My older son is out of school and working remotely for the most part. There is a lot of tension constantly between them. Family dinners turn into shouting matches so I have them eating in shifts which sounds absurd because it is. Is there anything I can do to bridge the gap between them? They are all I have and they are all each other has, too. I know they love each other. They used to be best friends. I don’t want them to lose sight of family even if their politics do not align.


DEAR IS THIS OVER YET: I wish that there was an easy solution. Unfortunately, tensions are so high on a national level, it doesn’t surprise me that it has seeped into every part of our society, including our homes. It’s important to remind them that they are family and that their fighting is not only hurting them but hurting you, as well. It is also important to acknowledge that they are both on different wavelengths right now and “forcing them” to be friends in this moment may just backfire further. You could try to bring them together (gently!) over a meal, and ask them both to not speak about politics at all for just the duration of the dinner. Or maybe the three of you could try and watch a movie together that they enjoyed when they were younger. This could help them to remember anything that they might have liked about each other. In the end, we can’t pick our family. But if there was a genuine affection there at some point, try to remind them of that. At the same time, you can express your feelings to them, and also give them the space and time they need to figure it out. Hopefully, they can heal and come back together. Hopefully, we all can. 

DEAR NATALIE: Do you unfriend or block dead Facebook friends? Is that rude? I keep getting birthday notifications for people who have passed and it makes me sad. It seems rude to unfriend them. —GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN 

DEAR GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: It can be jarring and unsettling when someone dies and you still receive notifications from their account. Many times, since it is hard to delete Facebook accounts, it is easier for them to remain as virtual memorial sites for friends and family to share their stories, memories or emotions around that person’s death. In this way, it can be a cathartic healing space for some. If you don’t want to unfriend someone who has died because you don’t feel comfortable doing so, you can “take a break” from their account or unfollow so that notifications do not appear on your feed. This way, if you choose to engage with their platform, it is still available to you. Remember, everyone handles grief differently. If you get to the point where unfriending makes sense, it is OK to do that, too. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about them or miss them any less.

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