Grieving Loss on Facebook
When I signed up for Facebook in 2008, I saw it as a way to connect with old friends and keep up with the self-affirming things everyone was posting about themselves. What I did not expect was that Facebook would become a place where people worked through life-and-death issues. But then Nan Taylor died.
Nan was one of my favorite Facebook friends, a spunky worship leader from my childhood who abruptly announced on Facebook that she was dealing with cancer. Within weeks, her son shared her funeral arrangements in a status update. All that was left to do was go back to her Facebook page and scroll through the recent memories of her.
Earlier this year, another untimely death shook up the usually happy Facebook newsfeed. Wanda Harrison, the wife of my friend Kevin, suffered a brain bleed and died without warning. Thus began the digital grieving process for people like me who couldn’t imagine how it could happen to Kevin, who had already lost his 15-year-old daughter, Beth, to a sudden brain aneurysm seven years before.
Most remarkable to me was how openly Kevin grieved on Facebook. I wondered how private I would be if my wife died, whether it was okay to grieve so openly on a screen. And quite frankly, sometimes when I saw his status updates, I wanted to look away – his heartbreaking posts were such a mismatch in a world of LOLs, “likes,” and inane YouTube videos – like witnessing a memorial service that was going on in the middle of a state fair.
I asked Kevin to share about his Facebook grieving process, and he was kind enough to talk about it. I hope you’ll read it and remember his story the next time you have a Facebook friend who needs a place to go with their hurt.
In February of 2007, I had to do what was, at that point in my life, the most difficult thing I had ever done. I had to say goodbye to a hero. Someone who had been the center of my earthly life for over 15 years. Someone who left her mark in the world even though her time with me was so brief.
I will always be convinced that my daughter saw her Savior waiting for her when she sat up in bed, spun around and gave me a giant hug, and then rested her head back on her pillow. Within hours, I saw the look in the eyes of the attending physician that no parent wants to see. My daughter would no longer snuggle with me. She would now be competing with the angels in her praise of her best friend – her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
My wife and I went home and spent the next seven years consoling one another. Occasionally, I would write an article that appeared in the local paper that would hint of my loss. On birthdays and holidays, I would lament with my network of families. But that was rare enough.
Fast forward seven years, and I had to do what was, at this point of my life, the most difficult thing I have ever done. For the previous seven years, I always had someone to share my grief with. Someone to hold when I wept. Someone who understood better than anyone else what it was like to lose a child. That was because we had not lost a child, we had lost our child.
Having your spouse there on your journey is consolation. We may not have had our child anymore, but we had each other; and that had to count for something. Then came the afternoon when my wife didn’t answer my text or my calls. I went home with the plan to express my disappointment in her for not communicating with me, only to find her collapsed on the floor. After rushing her to the hospital and going through steps that had become all to familiar to me, I had to say goodbye to the love of my life.
Now, who was supposed to help me through? My friends and family were there for me, but not in the middle of the night. Not when the crushing pain would strike. My faith in my Lord was a buoy in this ocean of grief; but sometimes I needed more. I needed to share with someone, and my wife wasn’t there to share with me. So I reached out via Facebook and began to document my journey.
Writing is healing for me. Sharing with others is as well. So for the next three months, Facebook was who I shared with. I was able to share my feelings, my thoughts, my fears. My journey was documented for all my friends to see. Then I had friends that said they wanted to share my posts with others. People asked if I would make the posts public so they could share with someone else who needed to hear what I had to say. My journey is now documented on my blog and Facebook with the hope that my journey might help more people than just my Facebook friends.
I believe there’s a purpose to all we must go through in this earthly life. There must be. I can’t be going through all this for no reason at all. So, until I am released by God, I will continue to heal through writing. I will continue to share with my Facebook friends as well. If only half of my friends who say they are praying for me really do so, then I have an army of prayer warriors.
I may not be able to snuggle and rest in the arms of my Facebook family, but having that many share the load makes it that much lighter – and it makes the journey that much easier.