I have been thinking a lot about how we deal with death and grief on social media, and this can be viewed as a kind of Part 2 to my 7 days of blogging #5, Five Equals Robin. A friend of mine just recently lost her husband. Within a year of discovery that he had inoperable brain cancer, he was gone. Gone. She decided early on to share their experience and her emotions, and now also her grief, very openly on Facebook. She gave the option to “unfriend her” if you felt it was too much. Too many posts, too much reality, too much emotion, too close to home, just too much. I opted to stay and experience her and her husband’s journey. It was raw and it was visceral and it was real… and it was a beautiful journey. It was (and is) never too much.
It taught me much about community coming together to help in time of need and about collective mourning. These were not our “best” friends, nor people we hung out with on a regular basis, but they needed us to come together as a community to help, and were brave enough to ask for that help. We helped as much as we could (I’m not sure it is ever enough, but I do know we will still be there in the months to come.) Utilizing various social media sites they set up a network of people to help wherever needed.
Caring Bridge is a site giving support to families when they are experiencing health issues and is a great place for information exchange on what is happening without the phone ringing off the hook. Another great site they utilized was Food Tidings, which is a place where they listed needed food items and preferred recipes. We could then schedule ourselves for whenever we could pick something up for them or bring them a warm meal. It may not seem like a big deal, but when going through this, feeding oneself can be a struggle.
These sites make things so much easier, but this is not a new concept. Meghan O’Rourke writes about how a century ago, we were more communal about our grief. The town or community of neighbors would come together to help in times of need, or of grief. This changed during World War 1,
“partly because the sheer numbers of dead made it hard to properly mourn all those who had passed, and partly because psychoanalysis was placing new emphasis on the internal aspects of grief… Americans came to view grief as a private and a psychological function rather than as a communal one. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ “stage theory” of grief, with its emphasis on tidily achieving “acceptance,” became our script for mourning. Death began to take place in the remote hospital, instead of at home; wakes were outsourced to funeral homes; and children lived longer, making sudden death more unusual.”
This man in his forties was blessed to have the option to pass away at home in the arms of his loving wife, and with his beloved pets. Sunlight streamed into the windows, and he could look out to view the garden they had grown together. He got to visit and commune with his loved ones and friends before he passed. Although we may not have been there in person, we were able to experience it with them online because of her ability to share those private moments in such a unique way. Perhaps some felt the need to “unfriend,” but for me personally it was (and still is) a privilege to share this reality with her. This is a prime example of how social media has helped to restore the concept of communal mourning.
After his memorial, my husband actually had a hard time with the fact that he’d never really gotten to hang out with this person whom he’d never met but was so similar to, and now he was gone. Luckily there are many stories online to keep his memory alive forever and others will get to know this man as so many of the rest of us have.
“I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.” ~Jack Kerouac
Please remember, it may not “be for you”, but please respect that there may be others who need to grieve within an online community, and that it happens to be good healing for them.