How Facebook Got Me Through My Mother’s Illness

Social media gives friends and family a way to show support when it’s most needed

Image: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

Sometimes social media gets a bad rap. Sure, virtual gathering places can result in unnecessary drama and rants. But for me, social media — Facebook in particular — has been an instrument of support and friendship at a time when I needed it most.

I remember the moment I jumped into the Facebook world like it was yesterday. It was a rainy afternoon in 2009, and I finally gave in to my husband’s nudging to give it a try.

I tingled with excitement as I watched my new connections pop up on the computer screen. I already loved this new toy and I was giddy! And hungry. I couldn’t step away long enough to fix dinner for my family. “Order pizza, guys, I’m busy here!”

Embracing Facebook came easy for a person like me who tends to be an open book. Even now I continue to post, long after our 18-year-old, Zack, crushed my spirit and announced he was leaving the Facebook world because “you guys have taken it over.”

Fine, go Zack… I’m not leaving. Not that he cared; he was long gone and onto other formats.

I will happily stick to “old school” Facebook. It’s my photo album, a reminder of happy times hiking and running with friends, and Disneyland trips with my family. I smile when I look through older comments and pictures that show how we have all changed, especially my boys.

When my mother became seriously ill late in 2011, Facebook became more than fun for me; it proved to be meaningful in a different way.

For a while, until we knew the extent of Mom’s illness, I withdrew a bit. Also a prolific Facebooker, Mom went quiet online as well. But as time passed, we figured out covert (and fun) ways to let friends know something as personal as how her doctor’s appointment went that day.

A good doctor’s report was followed by a simple “check in” at Baskin Robbins. Friends and family who were in-the-know would give us a “like,” knowing we were in the midst of a small celebration.

We eventually became quite open, though, and chronicled Mom’s journey with pictures and posts about our ups and downs while dealing with an incurable illness.

People are funny. Complicated. In this online world, you have Facebook friends that are also your “real world” friends; maybe you’re lucky enough to see them on a regular basis, face to face. These friends were not only there for us virtually, but they’re the friends who would bring the hugs, the coffee, the food to our family when we needed it most.

Then there are the folks we didn’t even know were following our story, at least not until they send a private message of encouragement, or a simple public post saying, “I understand.”

And there are the friends who may not ever post a word, but somehow you feel buoyed by their support, love and prayers. All these friends, together with the friends who didn’t use Facebook, formed the safety net that kept us from spiraling downward.

Recently, I came across the essay written by “Zack the Spirit Crusher” during his ACT exam. (I don’t think he realized the entire essay was available online for us to see. Sorry Zack!) The essay prompt was about “privacy” and Zack’s response focused on, you guessed it, Facebook.

Making it all about me, I scanned the essay quickly, looking for the word “mom” and sure enough, I was in there. I braced myself, certain he was going to give the test-readers an eyeful about his mother’s over-sharing and “take over” of Facebook.

Instead, he wrote about how going public can actually help us through life’s challenges. He wrote, “…my mother would post things on Facebook about my grandmother and many friends she hadn’t spoken to in years would respond and give their support. That support from hundreds of friends helped my grandmother stay in good spirits in those difficult times.”

Wow. I was surprised that he’d noticed, and I might have felt a little vindicated, too. But mostly, it made me think about the magic of social media. The magic of people! My people. My friends. Our friends.

Mom’s final Facebook post was on July 10, 2014, just one week before we lost her. She couldn’t type anymore so she asked me to type her message as she dictated it to me.

Then she summed up in a few sentences what I’ve spent a few hundred words trying to say here. She publicly thanked everyone for their love and support during her time in the hospital, when she was in pain and the future was uncertain.

She ended by saying her supporters had been “the brick and mortar” of her life, adding that “life would be nothing without family and friends.” Undying words of wisdom from a special woman, and a perfect example of how Facebook has united our family with those we love.


Originally published at www.blogher.com.

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