Thoughts on Grieving in the Age of Social Media

The last few weeks I’ve really struggled with wrapping my mind around the way Social Media affects the grieving process. Several friends in real life and online have suffered unimaginable losses of their babies in the last few weeks. They’ve gotten so much love and support on Facebook and Twitter from friends, family and even strangers.

One Tweep (aka Twitter friend) didn’t have a good experience like the others. She and her family were bullied hours after his death because of some choices that were made that others thought weren’t in the best interest of the child. For days and weeks now, this family has struggled to come to terms with the fact that their baby boy is not in their arms. Now they are fighting with websites to get horrible, inflammatory comments taken down. The Internet is rallying around them and helping as much as we can. The mom has gotten to a place where she is moving forward, through the sludge and quicksand of grief, and leaving the bullies to answer for what they’ve done later on. Karma is a bitch, remember.

Anyway, this got me thinking. And we all know that can be dangerous! How different is it to grieve in front of hundreds, thousands, heck, millions of strangers now in 2010 than it was to grieve with your family and friends and maybe an online support group before Social Media was really around and popular?

When Charlie died, there was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. I don’t really care if there was MySpace because, honestly, it’s lame and for strippers. We did email a lot but everybody didn’t have it (meaning grandparents, aunts, neighbors, etc). So when he died in 2003, we used the phone to let everybody know. People sent cards. People came to the house. People called.

Grieving the loss of a child is hard. It’s SO terribly hard for the parents and family. But it’s also hard for friends. Friends don’t know what to say. The veil of  Twitter and Facebook allows them to say things that are easier to say when not face to face. People are uncomfortable discussing things that are foreign to them. So in THAT case, I can see where more people reach out to give love and support to a grieving family (whether a baby or a parent or a spouse) when they are able to write, backspace, think, write again, delete, try one more time and then finally hit send.

But does it remove the personal touch? Do those people still send a card? Do they go to the funeral? Do they pick up the phone and call the person to talk? Do they reach out weeks and months later when the rest of the world has gone on with life? Or do they just “comment” or “like” a Facebook post and leave it at that, thinking that is supporting the family? And yes, it IS supporting the family. Some people will get to show their love and support who may have not otherwise known about the death in the first place. So in that light, it’s a fabulous tool.

It feels like, especially on Twitter, the grieving process is expected to speed up. I see messages a week after the death saying, “I broke down today. When will this get better?” and want to say SLOW DOWN. You’re supposed to break down. You’re supposed to cry. You’re supposed to grieve. You’re NOT supposed to be better yet. You can’t just jump right back to being funny and witty and all “social” so fast.

Which brings me to blogging. Between personal blogs and CaringBridge/CarePages sites, we follow along with people as they are fighting battles with cancer, preterm births and other events not necessarily life-threatening. Their lives are “out there” to begin with and there is a certain pressure to continue that so everybody who was following your struggle up to the person’s death can continue to know how you’re doing. I want to say to those who are brave enough to continue, “It’s OK to take a break. It really is. You HAVE to take time for YOURself and satisfying blog numbers and reader expectations can go by the wayside.

I think I’m glad I didn’t have my blog,  Twitter and  Facebook when Charlie died. I was allowed to get inside myself to grieve. I was allowed to sit and cry. I took days off and watched trashy TV. We went to real life support groups. I stayed in bed and didn’t feel the need to please others. Some call that selfish. I call it necessary.

The GOOD thing about Social Media during grieving, though, can’t be overlooked. There is such a wonderful thing called AWARENESS that occurs. But that means that you are burdened with making sure you give relevant and reputable information. Your facts must be correct and not made up. People will be able to learn from your experience immediately. But this shouldn’t happen at the cost of your healing.

To my friends grieving in the spotlight of Social Media, I give you permission to take a break. Not that you need my permission, but do what you have to do for yourself. Maybe it’s a break where you blog once a week or you check  Facebook and  Twitter once a day. Writing and connecting IS cathartic. I get that. I love that. But you don’t have to immediately be OK. You SHOULDN’T be immediately OK. We do want to know how you are. But you can let us know when YOU are ready to. Not when you think we expect to know.

Edited 11/1/10

My friend Kristine posted on her daughter Cora’s memorial blog about her views about grieving in the age of social media. Check it out here… it’s from the view of someone who loved and lost and is grieving with Facebook, Twitter and several blogs.

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  1. So true. Very well put too!

    Social media is such a catch-22. So much good and so much bad all in one place. Where some people take the time to write, delete, re-write to make sure they aren’t going to cause more hurt, others hide behind their screen to leave vile and evil comments. I think people have to treat Twitter and Facebook the way they treat their real life friends, take a step back and be with yourself if it’s necessary.

    The other good thing about social media is that it has allowed me to get to know a lovely community of women who I wouldn’t otherwise ever meet. I love that even though we will probably never meet in real life, we can be there for each other in life’s ups and downs.

  2. The internets can be the worst place/thing in the world, and the best. Like any relationship, it’s what you put into it and make of it all.

    During my divorce i was online a lot. That was stupid. After my divorce, i got off the computer for a while, concentrated on therapy and my daughter, and eventually got back into it. in between it all, I lost 8 family members to illness or accident. Grieving sucks especially when you have some fool with a login name calling you names.

    I think your blog is terrific for people who share your experience. Keep up the good work.


    • Thanks a lot!
      Yes, anybody can get on there and bash people and the cowards are the ones that go after people who are hurting. It’s just such a different place than it was 7 years ago…

  3. I’ve been reading this post over and over, and the more I do, the more I love it. You’ve said so many things perfectly. I think it’s really important for us to collectively realize that commenting on a blog or FB post or sending a DM or reply @ on Twitter does not replace the need for more intimate interaction. It can make us feel more isolated rather than connected, which was the actual intention. And I definitely agree with you about the expectation that grief should pass quickly, or on any sort of timeline at all. It’s been over a year since my son was stillborn and I’m expecting his sister in a little more than three months, but I still feel completely devastated by his loss. And that’s exactly how it ought to be for me.

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know how much your post resonated with me. I’ll be sharing the link on my FB and Twitter accounts, which I realize is pretty…interesting, considering the content of the post itself. Hey, social media friends, check out this post on grief in social media! Ah well, I still think it’s super appropriate since everyone will be impacted by grief, whether it’s the loss of a child or spouse or parent, etc. Everyone will be able to relate at some point, unfortunately. So it’s important to discuss.

    Also, I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story.

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