I can share many things on Facebook, but I cannot share grief. I can share family photos, travel mishaps, and light-hearted family events. I can share my pride as my children reach milestones and develop into good human beings. I can make fun of myself with foibles best known as “pulling an Amy”. I can share my anger over the premature degradation of my appliances and even sadness when my beloved pets pass away.
Word travels fast in small communities like my hometown. When my brother was killed in a car accident I knew I needed to be vigilant. I had read the article https://medium.com/@MrsTDJ/stop-read-this-before-you-post-another-rip-on-social-media-4c879cf69c5b and with my phone in hand I was ready for battle. I proudly caught the first well-meaning offender who offered public condolences and quickly restored my timeline to the image I wanted to portray: happy and healthy mother, wife, daughter, sister.
The problem with my plan was that I was in anguish and needed to be with my family instead of monitoring my Facebook feed. While many sent private messages and texts which were welcomed and appreciated, a second offender struck publicly and the precious minutes I left my phone unattended cost me dearly. I lost the little bit of control I had in this horrible situation to a sorrowful yet vague Facebook message posted to my timeline. Just enough to cause worry, not enough for people to understand why they should worry. My narrative, my voice, and my choice were all stripped away. I was angry. I swore alot. I used one word in particular. It made me feel better. Swearing is a scientifically proven method of pain relief https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19590391. The relief was temporary.
I took back what was stolen. I reached out to people in ways that worked best for me during times when I could handle sharing. I called, I texted, I emailed, I learned. I learned that every person I interacted with had words of comfort, hope, and love. I learned that many of my friends have siblings with mental and substance abuse issues like my brother did. I learned that in the years that my brother has struggled I had blocked out the good memories of the years that we were close.
I learned that I missed the brother I lost long before he was killed. I realized this when I went on a desperate, rabid search for a carving he had made for me out of a mushroom over 20 years ago. On one side was an image of a plant that is still illegal according to the federal government. On the other is the inscription “To AMY WITH BROTHERLY LOVE”. I wanted to throw it away so many times for so many reasons. I tore apart my closet as I sobbed, knowing I’d never forgive myself if I had discarded it. And when I found it buried among old pictures I flopped around on my bed like a fish out of water, gasping for breath between heaving sobs of sadness and relief.
I learned that not everyone gets the chance that I did, the chance to share your feelings with a loved one before they died. I had been worried lately so I told many how much I feared for him. I just didn’t tell him. I was a coward, pretending that my fear of alienation was a good excuse for silence. I finally called him on Wednesday and left a message. He called me back on Friday. I had company and was busy and looked down at the phone and said “I just can’t do this right now”. My husband said “I think you need to take the call”. My brother told me he was not angry with me, he just hates talking on the phone. I told him that I was really worried. He said he was fine. I told him I loved him and I would be there if he ever needed me. He told me he loved me, too. He died two days later.
And yet, one week and one day later my Facebook feed remains unblemished. As long as I could post pictures of the cucumbers my cats dragged upstairs or updates from a trip to NYC, I could pretend to most that it was business as usual. I guess it is time to come clean (http://www.npr.org/2017/04/17/524005057/when-it-comes-to-our-lives-on-social-media-theres-always-another-story). The truth is that I loved my brother, but our relationship was complicated. His death has hurt me deeply, but I will cling to the memories we shared and my love for the four special children he left behind. Rest in peace little brother. You will be missed.