Grief in the Facebook Age

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Grief in the Facebook age is public.

Others have said it better, but I’m going to say it again. Last week, we lost a young woman who fought bravely against cancer for years, only to succumb before she’d reached the age of 30. There are no words, as the rabbi said, at a time like this.

What complicates things is that our digital presences endure even beyond ourselves. This morning, I opened my Instagram to see her smiling face among users I follow. The profile pic. It’s how we see people who live far away on a daily basis: posting Snapchats of their dogs, sharing Facebook articles about Bernie Sanders, “heart”-ing our tweets.

There’s a strange twist of pain when I think how much I will miss seeing her from a distance through the Internet. Although I feel shallow and childish saying this, I have to assume other people feel that way, too. When we all climbed eagerly aboard these platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat — our brains had to readjust to seeing daily, intimate updates from people we hadn’t seen or talked to personally in years. It’s how we know what everyone’s up to without having to touch the phone part of our phones. We cheered along with our “friends”‘s triumphs and offered them condolences on their setbacks. We were closer than every. We were connected in a whole new way. It felt like a good thing. And maybe, then, it was.

But now that I look at her, posing coyly for the camera in her favorite wig, I realize I have only a new way to miss her. Miss her sharing about Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and her two pups. Miss hearing about the jewelry she’s made, the shows she’s going to see, the flowers she received. Her vocal and vibrant presence on social media means that there is now a hole, something’s missing.

We are our digital selves. The Internet is forever — but we ourselves are not. Social media allows us to enmesh our lives with one another from across distances, but also makes it harder to distance ourselves from a loss. I’m going to miss knowing that she’s just one click away.

3 thoughts on “Grief in the Facebook Age

  1. oof. This made me take deep breaths. I lost my best friend to cancer about ten years ago, we were both quite young when this happened (he in his early twenties, I, 19). I never considered the impact of social media might have on my grieving process and this was such a powerful read. My condolences. What a beautiful thing to write in such a difficult time.

    1. Thank you so much. I lost a friend six years ago, before social media was so ubiquitous and so much a part of our lives, and the grieving process was very different.

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