While developing some college courses for a mental health and wellness program, I read some interesting articles about the impact of social media on those dealing with grief.
I had never really noticed this impact before until I was knee-deep in the bereavement process myself. We all have our opinions on social media. Some consider it pure evil while others consider it essential for quality living.
My opinions fall somewhere in the middle.
But one thing I can attest to is how effective social media has been on my journey in grief. So, I wanted to share some of that experience with you in case you, yourself, are dealing with this unfortunate process or know someone who is.
When we think about social media, images of delicious food recipes and videos, cute puppies and kittens, or funny memes come to mind. But lately, I have seen how people use social media to deal with loss. For instance, on Facebook, when my sister passed away, her page remained open. I and others have posted on her page knowing full well she will never see the posts, but yet we write on her "wall" as a means of keeping her memory alive.
Why do we do this?
Does it help us to express our emotions on her page? I believe it does. Somehow, knowing others are reading my thoughts and seeing my posts does much to end the feeling of loneliness one can feel when grieving. I have seen evidence of this phenomenon on other pages as well. This type of expression was never experienced before this century. People steeped in grief were only given the chance to write eulogies or obituaries for newspapers, and (if their experience was unique enough) publish a memoir. And that's about it.
So what? You might ask this question, but I strongly feel this type of expression is good for mental health.
In the article, "You Don't De-friend the Dead," the author wrote:
But how do we cope with this grief over time? Grief communication theorists suggest that the attachment we feel toward the deceased postdeath can be understood as a continuing of bonds: Rather than severing all ties, the bereaved finds way to renegotiate and understand their relationship with the deceased now that they have passed on (Silverman & Klass, 1996).
Continuing of bonds. Yes, I can definitely agree with that assessment. Perhaps that is why social media has greatly assisted those dealing with loss. By connecting with others suffering through the loss of the loved one, that connection to memories of experiences shared or expressed can help understand the impact the loved one had on so many. It's those connections that help keep that loved one "alive."
Move On, Already
But can this connection be harmful? What about those who believe it is best to "move on" from or "get over" the loss? Is there merit to such suggestions? Can social media cause the grieving to remain stuck in their grief?
Many say, no, because grief is a process and not a destination. From that same article, Pennington (2013) suggested that the connections found on social media can help those left behind form a new understanding of their relationship with the deceased that will help them move forward through the excruciating grief process. Life without the deceased then becomes a new normal and those grieving are able to heal and grow.
I can attest to this from personal experience. As a writer and avid social media user, I find that posting about my journey through grief as well as sharing memories about my deceased loved ones has helped me heal and grow as I move on toward that new normal. It also benefits me to know there are others out there who have endured and made it through the various steps in the process. These "friends" converse with me in the virtual setting that proves to be more comfortable than an actual face-to-face setting (Pennington, 2013).
This encouragement leads to mental health and wellness.
Better Left Unsaid
Unfortunately, there is always a dark side to social media and some decide it is best to air their grievances toward the deceased on social media sites. These acts can cause much harm to the grieving. As per all parts of social media, discretion is necessary and some people aren't capable of this type of critical thinking. So, harmful and hateful posts are read, leading to more harm than good. But could this harmful behavior also happen without social media? Yes and has happened since modern communication methods have existed. That is truly unfortunate. The grief process is different for everyone and emotions can take over.
Social Media to the Rescue?
In the end, can social media benefit those who are grieving? Research suggests that it can. There are so many valuable forms of social media sites helping those deal with grief:
All of these sites offer effective assistance to those dealing with loss. I have used many to help me through the process. One thing is for sure, in this age of technology, social media has touched so many parts of life now. Is it going away anytime soon? I, for one, do not think so. Therefore, why not make social media a benefit to those dealing with loss rather than a hindrance? Blog about your experience, post about your loved ones, or simply acknowledge the loss someone else is experiencing. You could be helping someone more than you know.
Your turn: Have you ever posted on a deceased person's Facebook page? Why or why not? How have you seen social media impact grieving and loss?
Pennington, N. (2013). You don't de-friend the dead: An analysis of grief communication by college students through Facebook profiles. Death Studies, 37(7), 617-635. doi:10.1080/07481187.2012.673536.