Grief expert, Paula Shaw discusses the role that social media has come to play in grieving a loss, while sharing a recent loss of her own. She shares her thoughts about how Facebook provided a gathering place for support and connection with other mourners like her.
I recently suffered the sudden tragic death of someone very dear to me. In the days and hours that have followed, I have been doing a lot of thinking about sudden loss and the part that social media actually plays in that experience in today’s technologically advanced world.
I remember a loss that took place about 15 years ago when one of the students of our town was killed in a tragic car accident. My daughter was a teenager at the time and the boy who died had been close to her. Facebook didn’t exist yet, but cell phones and online messenger services provided a communication network that had every kid in the city informed of the death within hours.
Without any stated plan, teenage kids in the town headed toward the school. Someone found a large roll of paper and they taped it on a wall in the quad and students started lighting candles, placing flowers and writing messages to their beloved friend, who had suddenly left this world all too soon.
They stayed there for hours, hugging and crying, talking, trying to find comfort and a way to come to grips with the agonizing pain they were all feeling. Somehow they instinctively knew that only community could ease the pain.
At a memorial that followed later that week I watched teenage kids line up for 2 ½ hours to come to the podium and speak about what he had meant to them. It was one of the most moving, heartbreaking things I have ever seen.
I saw that same kind of instinctive community healing energy happen recently, with the loss of this young woman who was so dear to me and to many others. Only this time it was Facebook that provided the meeting ground. There were no candles or flowers or yards of paper to write on, but there was an endless scrolling profile page that would accommodate the expressions of love and pain that were felt by so many over this death.
At first I found myself coming from judgment. I didn’t understand why everyone was going to Facebook. In fact, I was kind of appalled until I reached the point in my own grief where I could open her page and begin to read the heartfelt words of all the others who were also mourning something that should never have happened.
I actually felt a sense of comfort and connection and gratitude that so many others had also seen and experienced her light. I now have a whole new appreciation of the role that social media can play in healing grief. More than anything else, it has become the great connector and when we are in pain we need connection. We need to talk and we need hugs and we need comfort from others. All, except the hugs, was available to her loved ones by just reading her Facebook page.
After the initial pain and shock were over, the sharing turned to wonderful memories of her and words of wisdom that friends wanted to share with others in that same pain. The page has become a place to gather, share information, comfort and memories. It is truly a beautiful digital memorial.
I take back all of my initial judgment and criticism about mourning online and the role that Facebook and other social media platforms offer. Today, the internet has become the place where we all gather and learn from each other, why wouldn’t it be where we would also find answers and comfort when we are grieving?
Is it the same as holding each other and crying on each other’s shoulders? Absolutely not, person-to-person contact is still far superior but it provides options for connection where there might have been none before. And connection is the key to healing grief. We have to balance it with alone time of course, but reaching out and interacting with others is critical to our healing.
I was blessed to be with my daughter when I got the news. She sat with me and held space for me while I wailed and sobbed my heart out. It was a horrible shock and in the days that have followed I have been slowly working through my anger, devastation and all of the “why” questions. All throughout that time, my daughter was there to listen to me and offer words of comfort. She also kept me abreast of the latest that was being said on Facebook. I am still healing, the work isn’t done, but I am grateful to my friends and children for the comfort they offered me and I am grateful to Facebook for the part it played in giving me connection with the others who were also aching from the reality that the energy of this beautiful woman no longer graces the planet. The void that has been created is palpable and would seem insurmountable, were it not for the potential of filling it with a community of people who loved her, who remember her and who found their gathering place online.
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PAULA SHAW, CADC, DCEP is an author, Energy Psychology specialist, therapist, speaker, Reiki Master and Grief Counselor. For more than 20 years, Paula has been passionate about empowering people who are dealing with profound loss, so they can reap something truly beautiful from their pain. She also helps clients who are going through major life transitions or seeking freedom from self-destructive addictions. She has degrees in Education and Communications from Long Beach State University, as well as graduate counseling credentials from Loyola Marymount University. She is one of the founding members of the Association of Comprehensive Energy Psychology and currently serves on its board of directors. Paula is the author of Chakras, the Magnificent Seven (2002), as well as "Grief...When Will This Pain Ever End?" Finding Your Way out of the Pit of Despair After Profound Loss.
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