Death and Grieving in the Digital World

Death, grieving, social media, smart phones… These things have been on my mind lately. On June 15, 2014, Father’s Day, I was on my way to family brunch with my dad, my father in law, my husband and son. On the way, we received a text message that a close friend had passed away. Our friend had been sick and in declining health, and we were on the “notify” short list. My friend’s husband had been texting close friends to keep us informed. The remainder of the drive was quiet and somber. My son was too young to understand why I was suddenly crying.

That day crosses my mind a lot. I miss my friend. And, I keep thinking back to that time and how quickly she had gone from doing ok to being stuck in a hospital bed at home and unable to speak. It struck me again today as I got a Facebook message telling me of another friend’s untimely passing. The message didn’t strike me as badly as it did another friend who thought it was horrible.

So, here we are… Once upon a time, a phone call would have been the only method, and not long ago, a phone call would have been the preferred method. I don’t have a strong opinion either way of notifying someone by text message. It’s fast, perhaps a little less painful than having to talk about it. But, I think it’s social media that causes me the most heartache (perhaps almost literally).

Once someone dies, their social media accounts live on. Facebook, for me, is the best example of this. I get birthday reminders, I see people posting on a deceased friend or family member’s wall… Sometimes, it brings good memories. Sometimes, it brings back grief and sadness.

I’ve always viewed grieving as personal and used to find it jarring to see the Facebook posts. I mean, you are sharing with a lot of people – assuming that person’s friends. Maybe even friends of friends. Maybe it’s public. In a way, it feels like I should look away. I shouldn’t be partaking in someone else’s pain. But, then, it occurs to me that it was intended to be shared grief. That can be cathartic in and of itself.

I recently read a post by Umair Haque about pain and the myth of positivity. I liked the message. When you have pain, you need to acknowledge it. You need to understand it. You can’t push it down… It won’t go away by magic. Your pain can be transformative. It can change your perspective and make you a different person. “Don’t try to stop your pain. Your pain makes you you.” While this may feel tangential, it goes back to the pain of grief, the pain of missing someone. Pay attention to your needs. Grieve in a way that is meaningful to you. Let your pain help you become better and stronger.

For today, I’m still in shock. My friend died 2 days ago. I can’t imagine what her family is going though. I can’t imagine what her 2 young sons are going through. And, at some point, Facebook will remind me of this and I’ll go with it.

Stay healthy!

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