I’m doing some research into the use of social networking to express grief. I find myself a little surprised sometimes at the disclosure of very personal feelings surrounding grief and loss that I find on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Even though I wrote a book about death, loss, and grief, conversely I feel rather private about those feelings. I know that sounds strange! It’s hard to explain. It makes me wonder if I would have used Facebook had it been around in 1990 when I was 15 and my dad died. I relied heavily upon my friends–it’s just that the support was in-person, not virtual. Would I have taken advantage of a virtual social network?
What do you think about public displays of grief on social networking sites? Have you taken advantage of social media to share your story and your feelings?
More later–I’m reading a great article right now about this very subject.
How 1 Billion People Are Coping With Death and Facebook: http://on.mash.to/XBHM79
Fascinating! Thanks for the link 🙂
The first thing that comes to my mind is that while I haven’t been touched by grief since social media exploded in my world, I have seen the positive impact these tools have had on others. For example, with one Caringbridge site a person suffering an illness, cancer treatments, etc can provide one update to a larger circle of people vs. having to answer the same exhausting questions over and over again. It also leaves a place for people to post words of encouragement that I have seen firsthand positively impact a site owner’s day after a grueling chemo treatment. I think that American culture has not found a way to accept or handle grief – we are meant to take 3 days funeral leave and bounce back to our desks, ready to go. It doesn’t work that way – but the social conventions will never change unless we force the issue. Enter FB, Twitter; we may not be communicating in person (which is a real shame) but we are communicating MORE via social media. If bringing the walls down is the benefit of social media influx, I’ll take it.
Isn’t CaringBridge a real blessing? What a great idea. I’ve used it to receive updates on people I care about. I’m sure it can be exhausting to have to recount the same news about health status over and over.
I also agree that as a society we try to corral and quantify grief and recovery. As we resume our regular lives, social networks allow us a place to continue to heal (for lack of a better word–I don’t think you really ever “heal” from a loss).
Tracy Lee Karner said:
I suppose it has something to do with why people are using social networking… those reasons are pretty varied, I think. Since I consider almost all of my facebook friends to be actual “friends”–people I am connected with on a personally honest level–and because most of them live scattered all over the country (and some in Europe) I post about what’s honestly going on in my life. I would feel phony if I didn’t mention that someone very important to me had died, but I don’t want to go into great detail about the depths of my feelings.
I haven’t tried google circles–but it sounds like a good idea to me. Because everybody is equal on facebook, I’m very selective about friending people. I’d prefer it if there were circle options, as there are in real life.
It’s an interesting question. And I understand what you mean about being able to write a book about something you feel private about. There’s something about a book that feels more anonymous than social networking or blogging–maybe it has to do with time. A book always feels to me historical; the document, even when it’s contemporary, is not as current as a newspaper or recently published blog or status update. And the author is working on new projects, and is therefore not exactly the same person as the one who wrote the book.
By the time I wrote my book, the time period I was writing about was long in the past. In fact, it even felt like I was writing about a different person. I am no longer that 15-year-old girl. I’m a journalist and I like to tell the stories of others. That’s how I approached my book: I’m telling the story of the 15-year-old girl, who in many ways didn’t feel like me.
That probably sounds even stranger than my original post!
Tracy Lee Karner said:
Doesn’t sound strange to me at all. I think self-reflection paradoxically distances me from my past self, and writing about myself in the past is an exercise in objectifying myself. What’s strange, is when we’re forced to self-reflect on our self-reflection. I had to do that for an assignment once–write about my earlier writing. It was instructive, but definitely strange, and it very quickly felt sickening, like stagnant air. My earlier writing often feels less like “me” than my earlier actions, which I sometimes cannot remember the motivation for.
Amy Kortuem said:
Well, I’ve been one of those people who has reached out to my social media network this year – first, with the death of my friend Lisa via my blog and Facebook page, and then with my little neighbor Ethel being in the hospital.
Reasons? First, it was easier to let a lot of people know what was going on by doing this. Second, was knowing that I had a lot of emotional support from a lot of people, no matter how superficial. The deep support I was already getting from in-person contact and conversations with family and closer friends.
The depth of what I shared, however, would probably be considered “shallow” to what some are sharing.
Right–if social networking is all about keeping people up-to-date on our lives, then it makes sense that we would share all parts of our lives–both what is making us happy and what is getting us down. Though I feel like some people only focus on the latter, don’t you think?
I think you’re on the right track that people may not have a lot of personal support with family and friends. Today there may be more awareness of the need now than in times past, like with counselors available at school following the death of a classmate. Still, there is powerful influence in some families to be strong, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve, and other trite sayings that make the grieving person feel guilty or “wrong” to express sorrow. There may also be family or religious pressure not to seek professional counseling or a grief support group because of messages like “we don’t give in to our feelings”. I try to use discretion when I post something about Daddy’s death (I was 13) because my older siblings experienced it much differently than I did.
I think there are a lot of pressures from various places to not share your feelings, to the detriment of those people. I touch upon this in my book. I see it as a Midwestern tradition because that’s where I was born and raised, but I’m sure the same thing could be said about other parts of the country.
Elizabeth Gaucher said:
I am fascinated by the maintenance of the Facebook profiles of people who have died. It’s like to delete their profiles is to have then die again.
I haven’t looked into the phenomenon too much, but I agree it’s fascinating. Do people actually post on behalf of the deceased? Or people continue to write on the wall? Maybe it’s a little of both. It would be a great idea for a study, though I’m sure someone is already working on it if it hasn’t already been done.
I’m personally not a big fan of people posting an excessive amount of detail about losing loved ones or other person things going on in their lives. I don’t mind maybe a status or two about what has happened in their lives, but when people go on and on and on about personal details, it sometimes just feels like they want attention.
When I lost my uncle last Fall I posted a few pictures (a dove necklace that he and my aunt had given me, etc.) and a status or two about missing him, but it was a private, family thing that I didn’t feel needed to be broadcasted on Facebook. The family and friends in my life that needed to know, and that I needed support from, knew the details from me, not Facebook.
I’m sorry to hear about your uncle, Nikki. I do wonder if people who use social networks extensively to communicate their feelings about grief do not have a lot of personal support. I don’t know–maybe more people here will help me find out.
That’s a good point. Guess I am thinking more broadly than just subjects of grief. Lots of personal information shared on social networking sites. TMI for me sometimes.
But back to your initial post; the visibility of your posts might be a factor too. If you have more privacy settings and a tighter, more limited number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers, are you more likely to post detailed feelings?