Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Grief in the time of social media

Once upon a time we had social cues for mourning. We wore black for a year, then grey and lavender. We covered our faces. We made jewelry from hair and wore lockets with our beloved dead enshrined inside. It was understood that we were fragile and would be for a good long time. We were cared for by our communities and strangers alike, not only because they could read the cues but because everyone experiences loss; we all need this kind of care sooner or later. Grief was a public event, without shame. It was understood that the world became muted.

It's harder to mourn now. Our entire culture is geared towards the quick fix and there are no visible signs that say I am lost. Strong, painful emotions are meant to be exposed maybe once, then hidden away (Kevin has been gone for 2.5 weeks and I've been asked if I feel better yet). We yearn for community to support us, but many of us don't have a clear place to turn.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have friends and family who are beside me as I travel the widow's path. I've also turned to social media for community. I have plenty of live, in-person community for which I am immensely grateful, but social media has become an immediate source of comfort when I am in pain which, these days, is most of the time. It gives me an outlet when I don't want to call a friend in the middle of the night. It gives me a lasting record of support, when my mind is so tired and sad that I can't remember the arms that held me just a moment ago. All I need to do is look online and I can see the many people who care.

Throughout Kevin's illness I kept everyone updated via CaringBridge and Facebook. It would have been all but impossible to communicate with the hundreds of people who care about him without these tools. And now, when I am in enormous need of support, I can post on Facebook and immediately am reminded that, in some ways,  I am not alone.

I am so grateful for this support. I struggle with these tools to some degree, because I worry that I'm taking advantage of everyone's concern by reaching out online, but right now? I'll set the guilt aside and take what comfort I can. It does mean my broader online communities are exposed to more emotion than these tools usually see and I have exposed my vulnerability, but no one has complained as yet. I feel some trepidation that people are not given the freedom to opt-in to the grief, but have it placed in front of them because it shows up in their feed, then I remind myself that they can skip the post or block me. That's okay.

Social media doesn't replace the living village, but it's a good start. And if Facebook, Twitter, CaringBridge or LinkedIn are what it takes to get me through the coming long nights, then I'm all for it. Thank you all for being my extended community and holding me safe online as I grieve. Thank you for being so patient as I figure out how to navigate this new world before me. Apparently it can be done in small steps, even just 140 characters at a time.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. In figuring out how to take care of yourself, you're (unintentionally) serving as a trailblazer for the rest of us. Nothing replaces human contact in real time. But as you have noted, the written record reflects many small gestures of support that could not otherwise have been extended.

  2. I wore mourning (black and gray) for a year after Paula died. True, most people didn't notice, but it helped me to make a quiet, visible statement for those few who did. I've gone back to it since my daughter Amanda died in February.

    The hardest part of wearing mourning, for me, was coming out of it. Half-mourning, wearing purple with the black and gray, helps. The first time I put on a colored shirt I felt decidedly odd.

    Do whatever you feel you need to do to express your loss and sense of disconnection from the world. The people who care about you will understand, or at least strive to do so.

  3. This on line world is like getting a kiss over the telephone. It's better than not getting the kiss but not nearly as good as the real thing. It is also far better than not getting the kiss at all. That said, I love you, Laura. I love you and your broken heart. I love Kevin and always will. This path you are on is new, and dark and lonely. I offer you my little hand and my tiny hope. Walk as long as you need. I'll be on the bench waiting for you when you want a hug.

  4. My Laura,
    I love you... If social media helps reach out that way. You take out however you need to! We love you and WANT to be here for you!

  5. Laura, I think you're so wise. Beyond those who comment, there are many more who see your posts, are reminded of your pain and offer a silent prayer of strength and send you love. Thank you for sharing your journey and giving so many a chance to serve you in some small way. I wasn't as smart as you when I lost my sister. It's not like losing a spouse, but its a devastating loss all the same. Instead of sharing, as you have, I completely withdrew thinking I could only share "good news" and mine certainly wasn't. I've seen what a blessing it would have been if I had been brave enough to share. Know there are so many who care, me among them. With love from Utah.

  6. You are wise and have good thoughts, dear heart (as always). Love you much.

  7. Dear Laura,
    there are two things that i want to share, restate even if it is obvious:
    1. social media is the same as real life in many ways, as you rightly said, people who see your blog, updates are people who have made a conscious decision to see it. These are people who have been touched by your online presence and come to visit you everyday. The feeling is the same as someone who would come and sit with you.

    The other thing i want to share is what Megan Hicks has rightly pointed out. At sometime or the other either we or our partners will have to travel this path and your sharing is helpful. I think your personal grief in its authenticity has touched on that which is universal in all of us.

    Much love

  8. Small steps are very good.... in whatever form they take. - Liz

  9. Thank you! This makes so much sense and full of truth.


True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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