Grieving in the Age of Snapchat
A few weeks ago, my aunt died. We were super close for as long as I can remember—she was my neighbor and one of my closest confidants growing up—so the news that she had passed away hit me hard. I had trouble discussing it with the people I know and love; so it should go without saying that I didn’t feel comfortable posting about my aunt on social media.
Unlike 90% of the milestones in my life, the death of a loved one felt too raw for sharing immediately after it happened. 2016 has been a year of goodbyes: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, Prince, Carrie Fisher, the list goes on. And that’s only celebrities—not the far-too-many mass shootings and violent police confrontations, involving victims like Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. But unlike deceased public figures, writing a post on Facebook or a long-winded note on Instagram in honor of someone whom only a couple of my friends knew just felt...weird. For the first few days after it happened, the only person I wanted to talk to about it was myself. OK, and my journal.
Everyone deals with grief differently. Some people get immediate comfort through likes and comments during times of need, and there’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, the #rip hashtag on Instagram has 16.6 million posts (which really says something). As Columbia University psychologist George Bonanno said, posting about a death on social media is “a lot like the way people used to honor the dead and grieve, which is as part of a large community.”
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a prof at University of London, agrees. “Social media can act as a social buffer or catalyst for people’s pain and loneliness,” he said. “It is a cry for warmth and sympathy in an otherwise superficial and narcissistic environment.” Sure, a memorial post might seem out of place amidst all the selfies, but it’s not necessarily wrong. However, there’s also nothing wrong with taking some time for yourself before taking your feelings outward (if you decide to do so at all!).
The hardest part about mourning is that there’s really no timeline. As much as I wish I could fast-forward through these sucky moments, I’ve learned the hard way that there’s no shortcut. Instead of focusing on “getting over it,” I think that going through it is just as important. Whether it’s taking a bath, starting a new DIY project, or whatever your preferred form of self-care might be, letting yourself feel however you feel in a particular moment is far more effective than forcing yourself to think about how much better you'll be in a week, a month, or a year, once you’re “over it.” Write down how you feel! And when all else fails, ugly cry—because that’s a form of self-care, too.
About a week later, I finally felt OK enough to share the news publicly (both IRL and on Facebook). It wasn’t even so much to get a response; when I processed the news, I wanted my friends to know, too. Social media isn’t just a place for self-promo; it’s a legit way to connect with others. So if it makes you feel less alone, and if you feel comfortable hitting “post,” then go for it—just do it in your own time.