Thursday, June 6, 2013

Grief and Social Media

I recently finished up a GriefShare class, something I should have probably gone through a while ago and I'm glad that I finally did. It was a good reminder that even as the overwhelming effects of grief ebb, they don't go away, nor should we expect them to. As we were wrapping our sessions up, it occurred to me that the materials had not covered any aspects of grieving in the world of social media.

I guess this shouldn't be a huge surprise. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, WordPress, Blogger, et al are still relatively young. They'll likely have peaked and been replaced by something new before anyone can investigate the effects of social media on the bereaved in full and complete study. It wasn't something I was even consciously aware of until about a year into my own grieving process.

In my own experience, social media is a double-edged sword in regards to grief; a blade of rescue and a blade of pain.

The one blade, rescue, is almost entirely positive, allowing the bereaved to have an outlet for their grief. One of the things GriefShare encourages participants to do is to write a grief letter to family and friends. This gives the bereaved an opportunity to explain how they are feeling while letting their friends and family know how to help them through the process. For many grieving individuals today--those who have lost jobs, family, friends, struggle with infertility, etc.--social media fulfills the role of the grief letter. It can allow a person to express the things they may not be able to share as easily when sitting face to face with those who care about them.

The other blade, pain, I'm not sue whether it's good or bad. In some ways I wonder if involvement in social media prolongs certain aspects of the grieving process or if it helps speed them up. I can attest to the fact that is is often acutely painful to log into Facebook and Instagram. Feeling the stabs of grief with each status update detailing the funny antics of a friend's child, pictures of happy families, silly love notes posted between spouses...but it also shows me that life is, can be, and will be good again. Does seeing other people enjoying the aspects of life which we have lost help or harm?

I'm certainly not saying that social media users need to stop posting all the happy moments in their lives in order to stay connected with their grieving friends without causing them pain. That would be both unfair and ridiculous. Rather, it is up to those who grieve to figure out how to navigate the waters of social media without exacerbating their own grief, especially in a negative way. Someone should write a book about this, just saying. :)