digital grief

When my friend Karen’s mother died, we somehow ended up in her apartment.  I have no memory of how I found out or how I knew to go to her apartment, but I did. We did. There was a small crowd of us there–friends from church, friends from her graduate program. Someone made popcorn. We watched 16 candles.  We were just there. 

In the days after, we went to the funeral–I even sang at it–“Morning is Broken,” I believe. We checked in. But we were there. Present. We lived there.  Other people came in for the funeral, but we were just  there.  

About a year ago, a classmate died. Six months later, another one.  And strewn about the country, we mourned, mostly on facebook. Their facebook pages instantly became memorial pages. People posted stories and photos. The one classmate was single, but her brothers responded to the posts after a few days. The other classmate was mother to two teenagers who replied to every single post nearly immediately.  Although I hesitated to view facebook as an appropriate memorial page, it became quickly obvious that this was appreciated by these young adults. In fact, they kept posting pictures on her facebook page months after her funeral, each time engendering more responses. I think it helped them to be able to entice others into sharing memories about her.  

Today, one of our second career students passed away. It was not unexpected. She had been ill for a very, very long time. But she was a single mother to a teenage boy. I watched as her facebook page began to fill up with comments and tributes. And then her son wrote his tribute to his mother.  He included a photo of him towering over her. He tagged her. I bawled.  But this tribute on his page opened up the ability for people to offer condolences directly to her next of kin–a teenager.  And people have done so. In spades.  

I’m not how I feel. In some ways, such a very public grief, splayed out amongst candy crush updates and rants about snow removal, seems awkward, too raw. In others, I’m not sure that most of us would have felt comfortable reaching out so directly to this young man without the medium.  And I imagine–though I don’t know–I haven’t had a conversation with this child since he was 9 or so–that there might be some comfort in being able to read these, in his own time and own space. 




2 thoughts on “digital grief

  1. Beautifully said.

    One of the things I find difficult is the way that young people nowadays often find out about a friend’s death from facebook. I’d rather a friend call and break the news to me over the phone.

  2. For no apparent reason tonight it occurred to me how many FB friends I have who are actually dead. At least half a dozen. Some are people I got to “know” through blogging, some are former classmates. I think I learned about all their deaths through FB but that doesn’t surprise me b/c that was our primary connection. Some were deaths that were expected, but two were sudden and out of the blue. The hardest was a guy with whom I went to HS; when we were planning a reunion a few years back I found out he lived in this state and we chatted on FB some. I kept thinking we should get together but I never did anything about it. A few months ago he committed suicide and I heard that on FB. So so sad.

    To be honest, when I see messages posted to folks who’ve been dead for several years, it sort of creeps me out. But I don’t visit graves either, so that is more about me than any thing else.

    All to say, social media is no doubt changing the way we communicate about and deal with death. I am actually grateful for FB for letting me know about some folks I might not have heard about at all or until much later otherwise.

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