Communicating Loss

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.

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Me, My Mom, and My Brother – 80s Chic

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.

Seeing America, Part 4 – Chicago

Whenever I tell people that I love Chicago and that I used to live there, the most common response usually goes something like “Oh, I love the Field Museum / Shedd Aquarium / Art Institute!” or, “You must love going to the Taste of Chicago!” or, “How many time have you been in the Sears (now Willis) Tower?”

However, just like most Memphians never visit Graceland, most people from Chicago rarely go the the Taste and only go to these landmarks when friends or family visit. These attractions attract tourists, but they are not what make Chicago great. Chicago has character.  It’s a tough city with a heart of gold.  It’s the best urbanity and Midwestern work ethic. The Jay Pritzker Pavilon, designed by Frank Gehry is the center of Millennium Park and embodies these contradictions in the way that the rear elevation highlights the support beams necessary for the polished face. Chicago embraces its contradictions – that’s what makes it great.

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Jay Pritzker Pavilon – Wikipedia Commons

Really, when I think of why I love Chicago, I always go to its neighborhoods. Even with 2.7 million people in the city and over 9 million in the metro area, your neighborhood can feel like a small town. For example, I used to live in an area called Uptown. The area is known for some of the best music venues in the city: the Aragon Ballroom and the Riveria. Less than a block away sits the Green Mill, one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. Al Capone had his own booth, and jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Al Jolson performed there. Only a few block away is Argyle Street, home to some of the best Viet-Thai
restaurants and stories. The best Pho in the city is served by Tank Noodle. I share all of this because when I lived there, it was my home. The baristas at my local coffee shop knew my order. I knew the servers at Tank by name.  To me, that’s Chicago.

The other best feature of Chicago is its lakeshore.  Unlike most industrial midwestern cities (Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Detroit), Chicago did not sacrifice its shoreline to industry. The 1909 Burnham Plan was an ambitious attempt at urban design that preserved this space. Every person who bicycles to work along Lake Michigan and every tourist who walks from museum to museum can thank the legacy of this plan. Other cities emulate Chicago; when I visited Mud Island for the first time, I thought, “Thanks Daniel Burnham.”

Chicago is a great city, but like Memphis it struggles with poverty and crime. Gun and gang violence are rampant in some parts of the city. Chicago has had over 2000 shooting victims this year already. In the last couple years, stories have surfaced about a Chicago Police Department “black site” in which the CPD detained and tortured African American suspects, denying them due process. Violence isn’t new to Chicago. For example, the events in Dallas this week reminded me of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in which someone (perhaps a Pinkerton seeking to discredit protesting laborers) threw a bomb killing protesters and police alike.

In the end, the museums, the lake, the neighborhoods, the racism, and the violence are all part of Chicago. However, when you love something, you love it better when you know its flaws.