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Grief in the Digital Age

I am no stranger to death; I have sat through more than my fair share of eulogies and burials.

I learned at a young age that taking care of the people around you is just what you do when someone dies. I have chalked this up to my father’s unbelievable skill to hold everything together even when things are falling apart. Anytime death’s shadow crept into my life, I had witnessed my father gather people off floors, plan funerals and check names off of address books after terrible phone calls. Even when he lost his own father – something that showed his weakest side – he grieved, but still gathered our family together and carried us through it. I have watch this happen so often, that I almost know my father’s steps as though we rehearsed and spent weeks blocking his movement on the stage. I have often wondered what grief would look like without his presence, knowing someday I would have to carry myself through it

Recently, I logged onto Facebook and between cat videos and political posts, I saw that a freckle-faced boy from my elementary days had decided to his end life at the age of 22. We were far from friends; our circle of friends never really overlapped – except for a period of time were he dated and fell in love with my best friend. It is hard to describe the feeling of finding out that a person you grew up with lost their battle with mental health.

As much as this hurt me, I knew others would feel the impact even more than I did. As I struggled to find words, I also scrambled to dial my best friend’s number. Not knowing if she had seen the same post, the happy tone of her voice when she picked up the phone told me she had not. Before I even realized what I was doing, I began to mimic the steps of my father. This was not even my news to be sharing, but I refused to let her find out that someone she loved had passed away on Facebook.

After a heartbreaking phone call, I logged back online to see that news had spread almost instantly to everyone. My screen was filled with old photographs and people’s favorite memories of their departed friend. Hundreds of people posted on his Facebook wall, sharing their grief for everyone to see. I had seen these people – my classmates growing up – post about everything from break-ups to moments of celebration on the Internet. Now, I was watching them mourn one of our own, sharing with the world the best parts of their dead friend. Anyone who had any small claim to him came to the forefront and shared their story publicly.

Since this night, I have realized that our reaction to death is changing because of the digital age. Each person who posted about his death had a right to, and in their own way, was using the internet to relieve grief. We share the best part of our lives on social media, so it is almost natural for us to grieve there too. The people who choose to share their stories publicly might have brought a bright light to a dark time for his family. And even for me, it was a great way to remember a boy from my childhood. 

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