For better or worse, social media has become an integral part of our lives. It documents our achievements, our relationships, some of us even rely on it to make a living. But it is not just in life that we turn to social media; these days, it is also just as common to use it as a form of grieving, not just for celebrities and public figures, but anyone who uses a social media platform.
On a first glance, it may seem unnecessary or even harmful to grieve so publicly, often in the presence of strangers. However, we must remember that grief is a personal journey and no one can truly understand what another person needs in order to grieve properly. While it may have some negative effects as with anything, social media has become a powerful tool for some to cope with the loss of the people they loved.
One of the most obvious ways in which some people find comfort in grieving through social media is the almost ready made support system that can come from this. Before the digital age, in order to hear words of comfort from friends or family, you would either have to pick up the phone and call them or be with them physically. For a grieving person, especially in the initial stages, even these interactions can be too much and too overwhelming. Receiving messages or comments of love and support, however, can feel like a soothing balm without the need for interaction from you personally.
This concept also extends to sharing the sad news that a loved one has died to begin with. Of course, it is far more appropriate to contact close family members and friends directly and personally about the death of a loved one, but as for everyone else, a social media post filled with words of remembrance and love can be a quick and effective way to inform pretty much most of the people you will know or speak to on a day-to-day basis.
One of the hardest things about grief is the need to constantly relive it and that includes calling or texting each and every person you think should know about your change in circumstances. This way, people who might have otherwise approached you without knowing the loss you’ve just encountered, may behave differently and avoid triggering you and are far more able to give you what you need emotionally.
Of course, an important thing to keep in mind, unless you have a perfectly curated social media feed that only includes your nearest and dearest, is that once you post something so vulnerable and personal, you are sharing it with everyone and your control is somewhat taken away from you. You should consider whether you are prepared to deal with any potential negative comments, as well as the positive ones.
Grief can be a very isolating and lonely process and never was that more true than during the pandemic. For some families, this is still the reality and having to live with your grief in solitude is one of the saddest ways to cope with the loss of a loved one. During the last year, when many people couldn’t even organise a proper funeral, social media and reaching out publically with their grief was the only form of closure or expression people had.
Even outside of the pandemic, however, showing and discussing something as challenging as grief on a platform where you also post pictures of your pets or what you ate that day, opens up a conversation and creates an awareness around these topics that perhaps wasn’t always possible before. Historically, grieving people locked themselves away in black clothes, barely enjoying anything that day-to-day life has to offer. Being vulnerable and open about grief as a normal part of life, however devastating and heartbreaking it is, perhaps combats some of that taboo that forces us to remain silent about our feelings in public.
Of course, there is a very real argument to be made that social media can sanitise grief to a certain extent, the way that it does everything else. Social media cannot possibly hope to replicate real life – it is a snapshot of a single, perfectly staged and chosen moment. A photo of a loved one accompanied by kind and thoughtful words, as sweet as it is, does not show the sleepless nights, the puffy eyes and the inability to eat or get up in the morning and the uglier side of grief that so many people may experience. Some people may share these parts in stories or in detailed posts of course, but most of us will not.
It is important, when we scroll through someone’s posts regarding their departed loved ones, that we remember this and remember that it’s likely our friends and family will not be sharing every detail with their social media following.
Even if social media doesn’t showcase every aspect of grief, one way in which it can be invaluable is its place as a permanent digital memorial for the people we have lost. Many people find strength and healing in the ability to post a picture of their loved ones online, write some kind words about them and take part in a moment of reflection, knowing that that moment will be immortalised on social media for years.
In fact, many social media platforms these days set up in a way that allows friends and family to take charge of accounts of loved ones in order to allow them to behave as an archive – messaging and notifications can be turned off and the account behaves like a digital gravestone almost, a place for people to come and post comments the way they would speak to a loved one at a cemetary.
In many ways, a person’s social media profile acts as their legacy, their monument, proof that they once walked on the earth and made connections, lived a life. For some, this may even be more meaningful than their loved one’s name on a headstone with just their date of birth and death, with nothing else to remember them by. A cemetary can sometimes feel like a place that overwhelmingly reminds us of death, whereas an Instagram feed filled with happy memories reminds us very much of life.
While sharing aspects of our grief online can certainly lead to a sanitised impression of what it means to grieve and can add to the perceived “contest” where we truly believe others are coping better than we are, it can also prove to be a method and a place for healing. As with most anything in life, social media should be consumed in moderation, no matter how helpful we find it, and understanding its role as an unrealistic depiction of life is crucial, especially during times of grief.
It is also important to remember that social media should never be a replacement for genuine bereavement support, counselling or guidance. If you are struggling with grief or your mental health, it is vital that you reach out to someone who can help you. Social media is a great place to interact with friends and using it as a supplementary method of healing can work for many. But it cannot be our only way of coping with any emotional struggles we may deal with, especially not the loss of a loved one.
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