For the grieving, Facebook DOES count

Several months ago, I published “Welcome to the Dead Dad Club,” in part as an act of catharsis, but also as a guidepost for others supporting their loved ones enduring similar loss. Having lost my Dad a year prior, I found myself looking for connection, aware of the wisdom I’d gained through the process, and hopeful that sharing my experience might help others.

When I read “The Art of Condolence” in The New York Times last weekend, I was surprised by the writer’s discounting of the value of digital media during times of loss. The author writes “But these days, as Facebooking, Snapchatting or simply ignoring friends has become fashionable, the rules of expressing sympathy have become muddied at best, and concealed in an onslaught of emoji at worst. ‘Sorry about Mom. Sad face, sad face, crying face, heart, heart, unicorn.’”

Many of us would agree that social media adds a little something special to our birthdays. Friends and acquaintances we don’t connect with on a daily basis take a minute to write on our walls — post a GIF, perhaps a unicorn if we’re lucky. Would any of us argue there’s an enormous amount of thought and effort put into those posts? Probably not. But it doesn’t matter — for that one day, when our notifications keep buzzing, we feel a little more special, a bit more loved. Most of the well-wishers would never send a Hallmark birthday card in the mail, and we don’t care. Their acknowledgement of our special day is a reminder of our connection to a larger community of people. Social media can have the same effect during the mourning process.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone in the days following my Dad’s death, except my immediate family. When the phone rang, we played hot potato, because the role of “Funeral Communications Director” is pretty terrible. “Yes, the wake will probably be Wednesday, the funeral the day after. Yes, there will be lunch at that Italian restaurant we went to when Grandma died.” I wanted to be in a cocoon with only my Mom, sister, husband, and a bunch of dogs. But I also took comfort in knowing that other people were thinking about us, while we were tucked away within ourselves. Those little Facebook hearts reminded me that the world existed outside of my grief, and that I would figure out how to share little hearts again someday, too.

After my Dad died, I felt sad, alone, restless. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. The evening he died, my Mom and I watched 5 different movies for 30 minutes each — because none of them mattered. But each time one of our phones buzzed, we perked up. “Who’s that? What did the text say?” And when I logged into Facebook, I unraveled hundreds of sweet messages about my beloved Dad. There were notes from kids we grew up with, coworkers, family friends, acquaintances. Some were simple, some personal. I’m not BFF with all of my Facebook friends — who is? It’s a social network, not the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Which means that most of those people would never have been inclined to mail a card or attend the services, because an online social network is significantly larger than a real life social network. But that doesn’t mean that those notes and emojis were worthless — the sentiment was conveyed and it warmed my heart.

In fact today, while writing this story, currently living 3,000 miles away from the box of condolence cards, I pulled up the Facebook post where I shared the news that my sweet Dad had died. Reviewing the comments brought tears to my eyes — again. Those notes are a portable reminder to me, of how loved he was, and how blessed I am.