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Collectively Grieving Online


When a famous person dies, a collective sigh weighs on the world. Many people begin grieving online. Tributes pour in, reflecting on the person’s impact on their life. Watching every tweet, Instagram post, and/or reflection on any social media platform becomes a way to know how someone responded to knowing them or who they were in their life. It is also a symbol to connect in the hope for someone to understand your feelings. 

With technology, it is easier than ever to be connected to the news, especially when someone dies. The banner arrives on your phone, usually with the headline, “(XYZ person), best known as (insert what they’re known for), has died at XX age.” There is a pause. Your body may become weightless. Tears may be heavy in your eyes. Your breath becomes colder. 

It is a template.

I have also received news about beloved elected officials or local giants who changed communities. The person is upheld as a hero and will be remembered as such. I learn about them in their afterlife and how their spirit endures in life. 

There are also the everyday person tributes: a person whose dog died, their loved one passed on from an illness, a loved one died unexpectedly were expressing the waves of emotions online is a sanctuary. A glimmer of receiving support and condolences may be what the person wants to receive. Death and grieving is one of the most human experiences that connect us through suffering and remembrance. 

“Rest in peace” feels empty to me. It implies that death is the only way the dead can have peace. In a world that is evolving into chaos, I would hope the person who died had peace on earth. The latter three words are not just something sung once a year in Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. I definitely had to look up what hark meant. Anyway. I am learning just like with the word, hope, of meaningful ways to express what to say to someone or about that person when they die. Listening may also be a necessary response. You may not have the words. Your actions, experiences, and body language carry the volume in which words may not. 

What must also endure is privacy when someone dies. It is a moment to remember compassion. The same goes for yearly tributes. Tagging a closely connected person may be triggering although it was intended to be sincere. There is no guidebook to grief (even if there is a dedicated section at the super chain bookstores *insert eye roll*). 

There are times when speaking ill of the dead is ripe. However, the best in the moment is moving on from their existence. It is human to have ill thoughts of someone. The rise of a reaction is worthless even as their actions carry on. 

There are a plethora of ways to express feelings when someone passes on. Grieving online is attributed to how people can use social media. We can learn through the connection of feelings, whether it is strife, joy, or whatever may arise. 

How do you grieve through social media? Do you grieve or view grief through social media? What do you say to people when someone has passed on?

Ashley Paul is a hopeless wanderer, baker, runner, and photographer. She is passionate about supporting high school juniors and seniors to write compelling stories for their post-secondary careers. Her favorite genres are young adult, literary fiction, and memoir.

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