Typically, I blog about digital businesses and how social media has impacted the wedding industry. Today, however, I want to blog about something more personal. This past Sunday, my grandmother passed away. She was a wonderful woman who was hilarious and had an impeccable taste in fashion. She was a large part of my life and in the recent months I was able to go play bingo with her at her nursing home and enjoy our remaining time together as the sand slowly ran out of her hourglass after 86 years. It was hard to believe that someone who was so important to me was gone. However, it was not until after I posted on Instagram a photo of us as well as a caption just saying that I will miss her and love her always that I really felt I was able to move on. I was surprised to see that social media was actually able to serve as an outlet for me and a source of comfort during a difficult time.
Grief therapist Lisa Leonard stated in a recent interview that individuals often find it cathartic to express their mourning on social media. Author Julie Spira even refers to the online postings of deaths as “social media obituaries.” While there is a lot of controversy surrounding “netiquette,” as Spira refers to it, there is just as much controversy surrounding the mourning process in real life as grieving practices vary from culture to culture. Either way, for me the ability to create a social media obituary felt appropriate and was interesting to see how it seemed to finalize a chapter for me that I didn’t know how to otherwise close in my life.
There are a lot of people who I wanted to inform of my acceptance into college, my first job offer, or even my grandmother’s death. I needed the support of these people, but it would be weird for me to shoot someone an unsolicited text with whom I have not spoken in a while that says “Got into college. Wanted to let you know,” or “My grandmother passed away. Felt like telling someone and could use just some kind words.” Those kinds of text don’t really happen – they would seem awkward and a bit random. Yet it has become socially acceptable to broadcast important events on social media for all to see. I think this is ok. I was happy that I was able to reach out and direct message an old college friend of mine when her father passed away, just to let her know I truly was thinking about her and her family. She messaged me back, saying that she really appreciated hearing from me and it meant a lot. In situations like that, I felt comfortable reaching out to comfort someone whose address I may have lost over the years and wasn’t close enough with to call up to offer my condolences. Sure, a direct message takes less time than sending flowers or a card, but it is more accessible and is still a genuine gesture that means more than just receiving “likes” under an old photograph.
A major topic of discussion surrounding social media is how people post polished photographs that are glimpses into their lives that are romanticized, perfected and literally enhanced with filters. A person will post a picture-perfect engagement shot of herself and her fiancé on Instagram so that everyone can be happy for them and to share the news. With the death of a loved one, it’s nice to be able to post one of your favorite pictures as well as a few sentimental lines about how much they will be missed. In a sense, it creates a memory of the deceased that is perfected – enhanced, cropped and essentially tied up with a perfect, neat bow and then presented outwardly towards the community. It is a special experience to be able to say, “Look at my grandmother. She was so cute and meant a lot to me. I want her life to just be commemorated for a few seconds, even if she will never actually see the post.” MIT professor, Sherry Turkle stated that, “We have come to believe that our experiences are not validated unless we have shared them.” Perhaps posting on social media also helped me to come to terms with the news before I was able to move on.
“We have come to believe that our experiences are not validated unless we have shared them.” – Sherry Turkle, MIT
In essence, an Instagram or Facebook post announcing the death of a loved one is no different than a formal obituary in the newspaper. In fact, I think it is better as it is not closed off in a morbid section devoted just to death. It is incorporating the memory of someone’s life into every day content that is posted, mixing it in with joyous posts about weddings, birth announcements, and other natural parts of life. So thank you, Instagram, for allowing me to share the news of my grandmother’s death but more importantly the memory of someone who was so important to me with all those with whom I have chosen to be social media friends, creating a supportive community surrounding me during a time that I needed it most.