“We press plastic keys down and up in a rhythmic manner as sharp letters line up before us in perfect rows.” -a beautiful and distant-feeling line from a recent article in The Atlantic on grief and social media.
It can at first seem strange, and sometimes out of place, when we see grievers post heartfelt status updates in the midst of a newsfeed of vacation photos and cute baby videos. The typical nice-to-have affirmation seeking bends more into a need-to-have request for support. And usually, the internet community pulls together quickly. “Likes” and “comments” stream in, letting the griever know that they are not alone.
Is this new method of grieving good, bad — or just different? Grief can be such an isolating process, and the more that time goes on, the more it can feel like your physical community has moved on too. You tell a friend that you are still struggling, months or even years after a death, then instantly feel guilty for taking up conversation time on the subject yet again when there isn’t even much else to say — just that it is still hard. The internet can be a safe way to ask for simple gestures of support.
For those who don’t usually find solace in spoken conversation anyway, social media can also provide a way to express grief, and receive comfort, differently. You can upload a photo of remembrance or write a thoughtful post. You can be creative and artistic. You can create a private group page for fellow grievers, where each person shares a memory whenever it comes to mind.
A Creative Writing professor of mine once shared a simple truth with our class: What is writing (or any form of expression) if it doesn’t have an audience to respond to it? We could write a journal entry every day, but if no one consumes the work, it almost feels half complete*. In this way, social media is giving us a medium for expression, a place to funnel grief and find completion in a receptive audience.
*Note: When I was young, I did journal constantly as if I had an audience. I truly believed someone would want to publish my journals years in the future — kind of like Anne Frank. I even signed a contract, which I gave to my mom, saying it was “okay with me” to publish my journals after I died.