When my mother died five or so years ago, I didn’t know how to tell people. I wanted to avoid talking about it, about why I missed a week of classes, about why I went social media silent. Instead of posting about it, I shared the eulogy I delivered at her funeral as a Note on Facebook. I think Notes were more popular at the time and her eulogy is sandwiched between a list of Shakespearean Porno Titles and a list of words that I discovered while writing my dissertation. Looking back, a eulogy, a post, or a photo on Facebook are all completely inadequate to the task of sharing how much I lost when my mother died.
So, why do we post about loss on social media? In a way, it’s a fast way to alert everyone in your life about what’s going on. From the casual acquaintance to your best friend, everyone knows in a second that you’re in pain. They can share this information with your co-workers and anyone who might accidentally bump into and ask an insensitive question.
For example, a dear friend of mine recently suffered a brain aneurysm. After calling everyone to let them know, his wife has used Caring Bridge to keep his friends and family updated. She’s also used it to ask people for help covering her classes, keeping her daughters busy, and keeping the vast number of friends who are scientists on alert. She’s posted links to Caring Bridge on her and her husband’s Facebook, but everything else has been through CB. With their friends and family scattered all over the country, this format seems the best way to communicate – social media at its best.
At the same time, I think some people share loss, disease, and other pain on social media because they need to legitimize or call attention to their suffering. I see people on Facebook lap up the platitudes. They publicize drama and mourning in a way that offends my Midwestern reserve. Handle your shit quietly. Suffer in silence. Be strong. However, I don’t know if that’s the answer either.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – I could see any of these used a way to share stories and create a group eulogy or hold a virtual funeral. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable streaming a funeral as this New York Times story suggests, but digital spaces and social media seem like they could become legitimate ways for people to share their stories and connect through loss.