Friday, June 7, 2019

grieving on the internet: this one's for you

Many of us spend our lives trying to do the elusive right thing. 

And then one day death knocks on the door and takes someone you love very much.

Nothing makes sense anymore. 

You realize that doing the right thing did not inoculate you from experiencing the unimaginable. 

The parents who did all the right things during the pregnancy––gave up shell fish and stinky cheese and alcohol and horseback riding––to later find out that their baby would not make it out of utero alive.

Or the parents that set the alarm to check the baby at regular intervals but their wee one still died a sudden infant death.

Ritually teaching our kids how to cross the road safely didn't stop the delivery truck from jumping the curb or the family member not seeing them when they backed out of the driveway. 

Sitting by your teen's bedside and making them promise upon promise they will never take their own lives or will always call you if they don't feel safe can still be met by the unimaginable phone call or visit at the front door in the wee hours of the night. 

Dreaded cancers visit. Degenerative conditions. Accidents happen. Gun violence. Self-harm. Addictions ... The list of how death arrives is endless.

You want to think that once you've gotten past a certain point with death you might be safe. Surely we've been through enough and death will indefinitely take its leave and give you space and an increased sense of security in this world.

Tell that to the mother who lost two young adult children within six weeks of each other or the parents who lost multiple children in an automobile accident or the young wife who got news of her husband's death one day and then later in the day learned of the death of sibling.

There is no inoculation.

There is no safe.

And then comes the aftermath.

Living in a society where people are expected to "bounce back" and get to the "other side" of loss and grief grinds salt into the gaping  wound: I couldn't prevent it from happening and now I'm not even able to grieve right.

Social media gets a lot of bum raps but one thing I have witnessed interacting with countless grievers is that the true miracle of the modality is the safe haven it has created for many of those grieving.

After your deep loss, the club doors of Death were thrust open. You walked through, and all sorts of visitors fell upon you for the first while, but over and over the condolences turned to radio silence.

The building of Grief is large and empty and the words echo off the cathedral ceiling and the tears of the masses bead up and slide down its thick walls like a constant flow of condensation. 

You search and search for another member of this club that doesn't look uncomfortable when you speak of your loss.

You ache for a way to say your truth that won't turn others off or make them uncomfortable.

You pause politely as people list off the shoulds: focus on gratitude; it's only because you had such great love that you have such an ache of loss––it will get better; time heals; they would want you to be happy.

Precious truths, probably, but no comfort when the ache, simultaneously vacuous and incapacitating, still finds you searching for your lost love in every corner of your life.  

You search like a naked baby bird, mouth agape, whose head blindly bobs reaching for nourishment.

And then you find the most unlikely morsel.

Tired of the comments on your personal social media feed about the intensity or length of time or flavor of your grief, or fear of the same, or maybe having never gone to social media before, but feeling so isolated, you branch off to find connection assuming another identity. An identity that only carries what comes with your grief.

Overwhelmingly people report being made to feel less than welcome on their own social media feeds after suffering tragic loss.

We hear so much negativity about social media and screens, but this may be the one time the convenience of finding companionship a screen away could feel––wait for it––healing. You realize there is a way for you to form connection out in the internet's ethers.

You land on this wee virtual island, editing your shares over and over––is this too much, will this be too shocking?  Finally you decide how and when and you do it. 

You post.

And before you know it, comments start to trickle in––"I'm so sorry you've had to go through that too, but I'm glad I found you."

You exhale.

Someone reaches out to you spontaneously to commiserate.

You unclench.

And there's that moment when you realize that you've just built something out of your indescribable loss. 

At first glance, this building of Death could be mistaken as a church but then you realise it's an adrogynous architecture. Church, dance club, corner pub? Who can tell?

And then, squinting your eyes you see it,  it's looking like home.

You celebrate.

I created community here. 

And it's helping.

I don't feel quite so alone. 

Creating that? Visiting those virtual communal spaces? That was the right thing for you. 

If you've found a place where people understand you. Exhale into that feeling of community. 

If you haven't? Here is your place to start.

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