Thursday, January 14, 2016

On Grief and Social Media

I've never liked crying in public. I hate feeling weak, and I hate feeling vulnerable. It's not that weeping at the loss of someone I love isn't a thing I do, but I prefer the safety of quiet and privacy to do so.

I have been accused on not caring before, but that came as well from a place of pain and loss, and it's easy to forgive people who are hurting when they'd like you to grieve in the same way they do.

And this is an important aside, here, I'm not trying to disparage people coping with things in whatever way means the most to them. It's hard, and it's frustrating, and each one of us manages things in their own way. I'm certainly not asking anyone to change whatever helps them feel better (you know, short of driving a car into a crowd of people or otherwise deliberately hurting the people around you).

I don't always know how to deal with grief on the internet. Something like "happy birthday" when facebook sends you a little note feels rote and obligatory, but in a way that's small and inoffensive. "I'm so sorry for your loss," on somebody's wall when they've lost a family member feels empty and sick when I've tried to do it. Or perhaps more accurately, it feels the same as typing "happy birthday" and then shutting the window and going on with life.

On the one hand, we're connected to people who are often impossibly distant from us. You can't always drive to someone's house to check on them and bring them chicken. Some people have asked generally for money for funeral or family expenses, and at those times I've been grateful for something concrete to be able to do. I'm always hesitant to pile another message people have to read on top of everything else they're dealing with.

And then, lately, there's been people's public grief for public figures very much at play. I guess, in cases where the personal connection was always one way, it's difficult to find any other way to deal with the feeling than to get up and talk about it in the public sphere, unless you count mentioning it over coffee to friends or spouses and then quietly shaking your head. I don't think grieving for someone online, especially someone I didn't know, is something I could do without it feeling entirely like a performance for me (which does not mean I assume that's all it is for anyone else, before you write that e-mail).

Then again, as an atheist from a deeply Christian part of the country, I have a studied habit of keeping my opinions about death to myself any time emotions are involved. Even if asked directly. It's no comfort to most people, it's not what they need to hear, and I have no desire to fight about it when I have the option of buying someone in pain a coke and listening to what they think instead.

I do sometimes wonder if people take it as a coldness on my part or an apathy, that I'm not posting pictures of dead friends and relatives or marking the dates of their deaths every year. That I didn't respect someone's work if I don't write up a little piece about it once they're gone. I suppose to an extent, we do consider it part of the contract not merely to never forget the other person, but to stand up and say something nice that they can no longer hear. I don't know. I think the better use of time, at the very least for me, is to take it as a memento mori and a reminder not to take for granted the things we still have, to take the time to write a friend we haven't spoken to in a while and keep that connection alive.

But as I said, we all grieve differently.

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