Mark has worked in healthcare advertising and marketing for over forty years. In 1993, he opened a medical education and communications firm, The BioContinuum Group. In 2009, Mark mothballed the business to care for his wife, Donna, who had been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and told she had six months to live. After Donna’s death in August 2011, Mark began to read, blog, podcast and Tweet about loss and grief. Over time, he recognized that he had collected a vast number of disparate memories of Donna and the two of them. These memories were small drops of silver mercury. Mark began to push those silver drops of memory together to make a larger and larger single memory. Donna, A Photo Memoir of Love and Loss is that single drop of mercury, a shining shimmery memory.
I don’t know about them but I know about us
It is what it is and we love who we love
Not everyone gets what we’re going through
But all my favorite people do
Yeah, all my favorite people do
Maren Morris, “All My Favorite People”
Don’t you agree that those lyrics capture our social media world of loss, mourning and grief? It is our world, and we are each others favorite people.
Though we all grieve differently, we all try to find a center for our loss and grief. That center will be different for me than you, but all of us are looking to center our grief in our lives and memories, both past and future. My grief may be different from yours, but like you, I am trying to find its center in me. Drill down to its essence and not let grief become the untied shoe string continuing to trip me.
In her article, “The Psychological Effects of Grieving on Social Media”, Lea Surugue focuses primarily on millennials since they are the largest demographic on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Surugue cites a 2010 study that examined the aftermath of the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Northern Illinois University in 2008. Students said they could openly express their feelings to “friends” on Facebook. In another study from 2015, researchers found a positive effect from deceased loved ones being kept virtually alive online. In a way, the memoir of Donna I wrote is my attempt to keep her alive so the world can see what I loved and saw, a story of love not only death.
Surugue’s article points out, as we all know, that there is no one straight line universal way to grieve someone. Research shows conversations about death, loss, mourning and grief can free people, yet death remains a difficult and taboo topic. Social media addresses these insights, but it is not the one panacea for finding our center.
There are risks to social media and grief. They include loss of interest by some friends and family; some accounts may close down; jealousy about the closeness of others to the one who died and finally, the sense that others are dealing with death better (it is always greener on the other meme). In the end, the author captures what social media offers us — a place to share, learn and be in a community of people who get what we are going through. Social media cannot and should not be the only place, tool or venue for us to share and find support.
My social media world began during Donna’s treatment. I joined Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus (so much for that!) and created my blog. It was less to discuss Donna and her terminal illness than to engage in healthcare and marketing, to follow others who could teach me. And to learn about her illness. I was a classic lurker following, clicking on links, responding, retweeting, etc. I still do. Since my career was in healthcare/medicine, social media was professional. I did not have much bullshit to deal with or sort out. It was a cheap and easy healthcare newsfeed then and now.
The day Donna died, one of the calls I made was to a dear, long-time friend. One bit of advice he served up was “I don’t know much about grief, but I do know that denying it or running from it will only make it worse.” I guess I took that to heart, though it would have been impossible to ignore my grief. Donna’s death, though no surprise, hit me like the A train.
I had been attending grief counseling well before Donna died since her terminal diagnosis meant no happy ending. In year two, the counselor and I agreed to suspend the sessions since Donna was doing well as was I. After her death, I returned for about six months. It was here that I began testing my memories, thoughts and how to capture us on social media. Shortly after, I began revisiting Facebook and Twitter with photos of Donna and us. I was able to connect with our friends who saw clearly what my grief was and is and who helped me find its center. I saw messages that others shared. What I thought were my isolated and “me only” feelings turned out not to be. Their words and thoughts were mine and mine theirs.
Even if we never met or spoke, this social media community of grief is just that, a community. We are there for each other because we get what the other is going through. We improve our state of grief.
In the end, my grief and social media are part of my belief that closure is indifference, closure is denial. Donna is part of me, not all of me. She is alive in me for wonderful, important and life sustaining reasons. I am on social media; ergo, so is Donna.
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