When I lost my mother in 2013, because of age-related terminal health issues, I wasn’t sure how to put it on my Facebook wall.
It did not seem to me that this would or could be potentially relatable to others connected with me or with those my mother shared some connection in real life.
In the first case, it made sense to me to go social and tell people that something gloomy and strange was happening in my life.
I didn’t know even how to interpret her absence in my life, so I doubted that it mattered to others. Also, I believed that my mother’s death was not a public loss or a subject of community mourning. I reasoned that those attached with her were not on Facebook necessarily. Admittedly, I did not want to collect merely a few #RIPs from the people who didn’t know her personally.
I had a deep denial in the belief that mourning our beloved’s death on social platforms makes our grief more bearable and acceptable.
I gave serious thought to it and decided not to express my grief on any social platform.
Later I found that willfully or not, we have to encounter our mournings. Then, is there a way out to mourn our grief in the digital world without being vulnerable?
Responding to Final Notices
In 2016, surfing through my Facebook wall one day, I found myself perplexed seeing a post announcing the sudden demise of a good friend of mine.
I had seen posts around someone’s death before. But this time it was different. I had a myriad of memories of my teenage life with him. I felt deeply connected to him. As they say, you too die in bits and pieces with a loved one because you lose a witness to your life.
But again, for the expression of my emotions, I always doubted social media. I was almost at a loss of words.
I responded with a very formal text in a private message to his family. Somewhere deep in my heart, I knew, this could not be the only correct answer.
As psychologists put it, before all the answers, you need the right questions. So, how should one respond to death in a social medium or digital space?
· How do I react to it, and what to say to aggrieved friends and relatives?
· Should I write RIP in the comments box publicly or text a few lines privately?
· Should I write a separate post and tag the deceased person and our familiar friends?
· Should I share pictures with him or reminisce about the time I spent with him?
#RIP is Customary, Refrain from It
These questions are about social etiquettes more than your connection with the deceased person.
In the analogue world of yesterday, the religion and communities formed around specific rituals primarily controlled and guided grieving. But in the digital world, it is crisscrossing with the bits and bytes, changing its character.
Whenever you get the public announcement of your beloved’s death through Facebook and Twitter, you find it almost impossible to hold yourself to write a customary RIP.
I think we should seriously think about that. Is it the only way to express our grief? Can we be more thoughtful? Shouldn’t we celebrate his/her life by sharing our memories of them?
I understand that there are no fix rights and wrongs to express grief on social platforms. But it matters how you choose your words to reach out to immediate friends and family.
And it is an irony that we find it so difficult to discuss death verbally at length but are okay with writing a #RIP message on social.
Are we vulnerable and scared in opening ourselves to the real people but comfortable playing bold behind a screen?
Acknowledge Loss, Don’t Ask ‘How’
Understandably, many of us find it hard to gather correct words and genuinely express them in such situations. Many of us like me say nothing because they worry about being wrong or hurting him/her unknowingly.
But many of us who have courage end up asking ‘how are you’ or ‘how are you feeling’ as they start the conversation.
I think investigating questions with an aggrieved person is a wrong approach. The time will come when you could start with this, but not now. Please know that you are not the first person in an investigation mode. It undoubtedly refreshes the memories and extends his/her grief only.
It doesn’t mean that you will say nothing. Speaking from the heart and keeping it short and simple can be the right thing. Acknowledging the loss is the key to starting communication with the person who is experiencing it.
Like people, every loss is unique, so the grievers. Do not make the distance with the griever in the face of sudden loss. Treat him/her as you always have. Some injuries are unexpected and don’t give you enough time to articulate about or collect your senses to express yourself authentically. We should honour this too.
Unfollow or Block the Deceased
When someone dies, many people tag him/her (the deceased) in their posts. It will show up on the walls of the dead person’s friends. Family or friends of the deceased might find it disrespectful or an unnecessary reminder of the death.
Here, you should not feel guilty about unfollowing or blocking the deceased. It can keep you out of the circle of sad memories.
Even after all these dos and don’ts, there is no single or correct prescription to deal with grief in the digital space. It changes with the person, age, gender, culture, geography and sensibilities.
Death Is Still A Challenge
Still, death is a private affair in many cultures. I’ve seen people who don’t want to discuss it in great detail. Talking about our immortality or confronting dying in any space is not welcomed.
In the age of already invaded privacies, we are quite accustomed to publicising our mourning digitally. But many a time it is confusing to discuss or respond to your beloved’s death on a social platform.
That’s why when our time comes to grieve, we are almost clueless and not sure about how to mourn.
Simultaneously, expressing ourselves appropriately to someone who is experiencing loss is difficult and challenging sometimes.
Digital is Death Positive
When someone dies, feelings of loss, stuck, scare, and hurt take place. People look for comfort and support from others. Social media platforms provide an opportunity as grief outlets that allow them to express loss and sadness, where death doesn’t seem as brutal and final to them.
Several blogs talk about terminal illness. There are hospice and palliative care forums you can ask for help, grief podcasts you can listen to for personal guidance, caregiver communities and bereavement Facebook groups where you can discuss and let go of your grief.
The digital world is altering our primitive consciousness of death, transforming itself into a community where death is not a taboo anymore.
And death will never be the same as it was.