Tuesday, October 17, 2017

50 for 50 day 41: With gratitude for social media and knowing I am not alone

This is the 41st of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

I have such mixed feelings about social media. I expect you do, too. There are ways that it's limited discourse, increased volatility, and certainly had a painful effect on our culture, and it's easy to focus on the negative impact. To do so would be limiting because, while social media has had some disastrous societal impact, social media saved my life in my darkest days and I bet I'm not the only one.

As you well know, I was shattered by Kevin's death. Many wonderful, loving people did their best to help me, but (as with any trauma) one who has not been through it can't truly get what it's like. Through social media I found others who had lost their beloved. Others who had lost their beloved at a young age. Others who had lost their beloved from pancreatic cancer. I found people who had stories close enough to mine that I knew they understood what I was experiencing and all I had to say was "today was a hard day." Most of these were on Facebook. I will not name them here because they are understandably private. If you need to know about them please contact me.

Through these widowed peoples' Facebook groups I found an online community that let me to an organization that hosts Camp Widow. At barely six months past Kevin's death I went to one of their events. The first night there I wandered into the hotel bar for the mixer. I saw everyone chatting, talking, laughing, and the enormity of his death, of my loss, came crashing down on me. I couldn't stop myself from crying.

Have you ever sobbed in public? I have, repeatedly. Most of the time people look at you then look away. They don't know what to do and are embarrassed, afraid. I started crying and immediately two women came over to me and, without hesitating, held me. One of them cooed to me, "We know, we know. You just cry." They did know. For the first time since Kevin died I had the overwhelming sense that maybe I wasn't alone in the world. That maybe I could find a way through because they did know.

I remained active in online grief support forums through Facebook, Soaring Spirits, Widowed Village and others. I could always find someone there, no matter the hour, and I know that this  companionship, this community born out of loss, is the only reason I didn't entirely disappear in my grief. No one there ever told me to get over it or stop, they just kept me company as I howled out my pain. If you think some of what I've written here is raw, it's nothing compared to some of the talk in these safe places.

As time has passed I've come to need this support less and less, but not entirely. I still check in, both for support and to offer support to those in a different part of the journey than I am. I check in to remember that I am not alone.

I don't know what I would have done without social media support, without those women embracing me, without this blog. None of that would have happened without social media. I am speaking only from my experience here. I know there are people for whom social media has been isolating, damaging, or even fatal. I am so sorry if that has been your experience.

I was moved to write this post because of the #metoo posts overtaking Facebook and Twitter. Again and again I am seeing expressions of relief at finally being able to name it. By naming we start to reclaim our own power. By knowing we aren't alone we can sometimes feel a little relief. If we find allies then maybe we can begin to change things.

Social media is by no means a panacea. The world is louder and more rancorous because of it. But it is a tool, and like any other, can be used for good or for ill. We get to choose to be passive and accept anything that comes through it or be active and seek out the resources that will be of most benefit to us. I am so grateful that you all were there when I needed (and will need) you. I never would have found you without social media and without you I don't know that I would have survived.

This is what 50 looks like. A little too obsessed with Facebook and Twitter, and so grateful to know I am not alone. #metoo
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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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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