Grieiving in the Digital World

Grief is a very complex and personal thing. And while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, I have noticed a trend in grieving, a trend I am dubbing Facebook mourning. (If there is a real name for this, please do let me know!)

I remember being weirded out beyond belief the first time I saw Facebook mourning in action: friends posting condolences on a deceased person’s Facebook wall. I didn’t know the person, but from his public wall, I could see he had been a victim of a car accident. At the time, it seemed bizarre to me that people would write on his wall. What if someone didn’t know what happened yet?! What if his family didn’t want anyone to know yet? How horrible to have this be all over his wall, to have tagged him when he isn’t here anymore?!

Incredulity: that was my initial reaction.

But in time, I realized that this was becoming a “thing.” As years went on, Facebook walls became living memorials, even when the user ceased to exist. These walls have become a way for family and friends to grieve and outwardly demonstrate their love or longing –sharing photos, memories, little notes … on birthdays, anniversaries, random Tuesdays just because. It’s why many loved ones keep the page open, long after the person’s death — it serves as a tribute, a beautiful way to keep that person’s memory alive. Sometimes they are tagged in old pictures, or in new anecdotes.

When my cousin Michelle died suddenly of Crohn’s related complications in 2014, I shocked myself by having an urge to post random hearts on her wall when I was thinking about her, and I noticed other people doing the same. A memory from her childhood BFF here, a photo of her and her husband there, etc. She has been tagged in more pictures in her death than she probably was alive — which is also probably because she was a late adapter to Facebook (miss you, Shell!) but still.

This is how people grieve now.

And when one of my best friends, Rachel (who also had Crohn’s), died suddenly last April during a routine medical procedure, the same thing happened: I (like many of her loved ones) flocked to her wall, sharing memories and thoughts with her, as a way to keep her here. Her birthday was this past weekend, and a whole group of us went out to celebrate her at her favorite fro-yo place. Naturally she was tagged in the photos. And though it makes me sad she missed a celebration she would have loved, it didn’t feel strange or unnatural or wrong to see her name tagged. After all, this was for her. Because we love her and miss her.

Grief is as much a part of life as anything … and I guess as we’ve all grown up over social media, we are getting accustomed to “new norms.”

It still doesn’t change the fact that we wish that person was still here … but if there’s a way to keep them close to us even a fraction of a moment longer … sign me up.

How about you? What do you think about “Facebook mourning?” Does it make you uncomfortable or do you do it?


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