Law in Contemporary Society

Modern Loss: Sharing Grief and Finding Solace on Social Media

-- by LisaXia - 21 Apr 2016

Today, I received a text message from my dad: “I know you knew Donna. On 4/18, Donna and her family were involved in a tragic car accident while on vacation in New Zealand. Donna has passed. Parents are in critical condition.”

At 22, Donna was a couple years younger than me. We danced together in the same community Chinese dance group. We volunteered together at Hand-in-Hand Chinese in Atlanta. We went to Chinese school together as children. Other than the occasional like on Instagram and Facebook though, the last time we talked was when we ran into each other randomly during the intermission of a dance performance hosted by our old studio several years ago.

Our conversation was probably generic. Unmemorable, but friendly. We exchanged pleasantries, smiles, and talked about how much all the younger kids from our dance studio had grown. We were acquaintances at best, but we were acquaintances who shared a community and a long history of growing up together.

I didn’t know how to process the news. I drafted text messages to several people that I knew were mutual friends, but eventually decided against sending a single one. I was scared that they hadn’t heard the news yet. I was scared of being the one to tell them about it.

Just days ago, I remembered seeing her post a photo of a wine tasting in New Zealand. Someone had commented on the photo: “omg! you’re traveling everywhere lately!” “yeah,” she replied, “I’m just trying to see the world :)”

Days later, she changed her profile picture. “Enjoying the seaside breeze.”

The morning of her death, she posted six photos to the last Facebook album she would ever make: “New Zealand Adventuuures: exploring a beautiful corner of the world.”

In the wake of her death, these things are haunting and beautiful - they are a testament to her person. The long drawn out U’s in “Adventuuures” are whimsical and playful. A caption to a photo reads: “Los suspiros son aire y van al aire. / Las lágrimas son aqua y van al mar. / Dime, muter, candy el amor se olvida, / ¿sabes tú adónde va? — Bécquer, Rima XXXVIII” A reflective girl. Do you know where you are going?

Facebook, a place used generally for sharing links, likes, and preferences, is transformed into a place for sharing grief. Posts flood her wall:

“Thank you for sharing your limitless effervescence and geniality with me and so many others. You will be dearly missed.”

“I will never comprehend what I did to deserve the privilege of your endless smiles and hugs…or the surprise chocolates in my lab coat pockets every day…you said they were because I did not smile enough. Sweet girl, I was so lucky to have known you. Your enthusiasm could have lit a fire in the coldest of hearts. I will carry your light with me like so many who loved you. Thank you for everything. I will love and miss you always.”

“To the love of my life and the girl of my dreams…You had the brightest smile and the kindest soul that any human being could have had and I miss you dearly…Words can barely describe what you meant to me.”

This is not a defense or justification of using Facebook or of social media; rather, it's a simple observation of an unexpected use. Facebook provides one way for people to cope with a death. A Facebook page is so personal that even after death, it seems as if it is a portal that can be used to communicate with the deceased. Posting to a wall, sending a private message, tagging them in a status - whatever your preferred method of expression is - you can communicate it in that way. The Facebook profile serves as an outlet - where people can reach out and feel as if they are still able to send the deceased a message somehow. And despite the public nature of the posts (except private messages), the posts are still personal - and sometimes even cathartic. Posts speak of specific memories and talk about the special value of friendship their relationship had. These posts honor the deceased and help those who wish to remember her best qualities and traits as someone who impacted not just one person (you), but a whole community of people. And reading these posts help - if only just a little. The ability to experience other people's relationship with the deceased allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the person writing the post and to better understand and empathize with how they're feeling. By immersing yourself in these remembrances, I think you are honoring the person in the best way you can: by appreciating all of her traits and qualities - not just the ones you were familiar with.

In addition to helping remember the goodness of that person, the posts show that you are not alone in your grieving and also provide new support networks that you can reach out to. Several years ago, a high school friend of mine passed away in an accident. Her family used Facebook as a way to keep the community informed about her condition, to ask for support and prayers, and ultimately, to disseminate information about funeral proceedings and memorial services. But it didn't end there. Friends each chose a day of the year to remember and honor her memory. Even now, almost three years later, there is a new post a day on her wall.

Her father said: "Julia turned me on to FB six years ago today. It has been my pleasure getting to know her beautiful friends on FB since she went home to heaven. You are an inspiration to me."

For many, after the death of a loved one, Facebook has been a place where they can be a part of an ever-present community - one which can support, encourage, and inspire as time passes.

Human beings are evolved as learners and communicators in groups. Social animals with consciousness, this is what we do. We use everything that can be used to communicate, which despite its many drawbacks, centralized "social networking" (which is really the Web with a few additional writing tools and complete integrated surveillance) absolutely can.

One of the things human beings are most likely to be communicating about is death. One of the most likely forms of communication among human beings is communication with the dead. This is literally impossible, but doing it allows us to dissociate the fact that we die, which would otherwise cause us all to go crazy immediately. You are observing the behavior, which is certainly correctly described if not very clearly analyzed. Clear analysis is hard for you because you are writing about a death of which you were socially aware. That requires you to undertake the effort to accept the reality of someone's death without accepting the reality of death too much. This process, called "mourning," is psychically very fraught.

So what is the subject: Your experience, the meaning of your experience, and perhaps something else? The draft's difficulty is that it is too close to the subject, which is the choice you made in deciding to write about it here, which was not like other possible forms of mourning, including writing on the Facebook wall.


Webs Webs

r7 - 16 Jun 2016 - 08:05:45 - EbenMoglen
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