nobody knows, nobody sees… nobody knows but me.

A girl I grew up with died last weekend. I haven’t seen her in years, but we played on the same soccer team and I used to go to her house for sleepovers. I remember laying on her bed, watching Richie Rich on the TV in her room (being amazed her parents let her have her own TV), talking.

Our paths didn’t really cross too much after that point–I moved on to a new school and she kept through the public school system. I heard through some mutual friends that she had hit upon a rough patch and had gotten into a bad scene, but thought that she had worked through it. And then I received a phone call last week about her death.

But before I could even check my messages or talk to my friend, IĀ  learned the news first from the numerous wall postings to this girl on Facebook. Countless people logged on to wish her restful peace and let her know they were sorry.

I don’t want knock anyone’s way of grieving, because I do believe we all handle situations differently, and I know that life/how we handle information is rapidly changing due to the Internet; however, to me, writing messages on the public social networking page of someone who has died is odd.

Maybe, as my friend Chris recently wrote about in his blog, it’s just one of those things that embarrass me (I too don’t like to express overly patriotic/religious/sentimental opinions with people most of the time), but I just feel like it’s such a strange way to acknowledge someone’s passing. I get that maybe it’s a way to feel like you actually can “talk” to the person, but some of the comments I’ve seen (not just in this instance… sadly a few people I’m friends with on facebook have died) just seem a little inappropriate to post in a public forum. Beyond that, I think that if people aren’t careful, it can create a pretty horrible way for someone to find out potentially devastating news.

This phenomenon of intense FB sharing/memorializing is something that has become more and more common in the past 5 years and it’s something I’m not really sure I’m able to fully comprehend/support. I do see the benefits to this way of mourning–it allows people to have a voice and an audience for their grief; it lets people know they are not alone in their feelings, and it can provide some wonderful comfort to families to see how much their loved one meant to others. However, it also seems that many people do not adhere to proper social protocols (for on- or offline living) and post some things that are better left unsaid/unwritten.

Also, I can’t help but feel so many people go out of their way to qualify their friendship/kinship with the deceased and prove why they are truly mourning this terrible loss. I’ve seen, and experienced this phenomenon firsthand. I once had someone try to “one up” my grief by arguing that the death we were both grieving affected that person more than me (yeah, someone actually said, “yeah, but you were just his X, I was his X. Imagine how this makes me feel”). I don’t argue that we all have people in our lives who play more significant roles in our existence than others, but I don’t get the one-upmanship that seems to accompany the grief process for so many people.

This “more worthy of grieving” attitude has created a strangeĀ guilt within me about mourning the loss of someone “more than you should.” There have been several people who have died who I was not particularly close with but whose death had a significant effect on me for one reason or another. And I have actually felt guilt about this–as though I have no place to mourn so much for someone unless I can back up my reason for feeling so connected.

And based on the different experiences I’ve had when death, it seems like others, consciously or not, feel the need to justify how they react based on their relationship with the person: “But she was my neighbor.” “She was my friend for 14 years.” “We talked on the phone last night.” I don’t know if this is a direct product from the experiences others have had with”grief one-upmanship,” or if that phenomenon is a direct result from the insecurities we feel about our mourning.

I’m curious to know others opinions on online memorializing and guilty grieving. Have you experienced either of these before? What’s been your take?

5 thoughts on “nobody knows, nobody sees… nobody knows but me.

  1. This bothers me, too, especially the phenomenon of “RIP *insert celebrity here*. Like who can be first to know who died?

    I had a friend recently pass and one of the first things her husband did was remove her profile from Facebook, I appreciated that.

    Guilty greiving? A twinge, here and there. My friend who just passed, we never got close, I felt like I always kept her at a distance. Then I got over that because I put it in the perspective that God didn’t want us to get close because he was planning to take her away and wanted to save me some heart ache.

    I think everyone grieves the way they grieve. Sometimes we are terribly sad, overcome so much by it that we can’t move. Sometimes, we are happy and that’s okay too. Sometimes, it doesn’t hit us for a long, long time. Sometimes, even years later, we are struck with it and it is so powerful we can’t do anything put let it ride.

  2. Although I can’t recall a specific verbal example, I have experienced this one-upmanship too. It’s weird. I do remember when my cousin died, all his high school-aged friends were actually sneaking up into his room at the house during the “after party” to take some memento. As if they had more of a right to keep a personal belonging to remember him by than any family member. Death brings out the bizarre, I guess.

    And, I also think that posting anything about grieving the loss of a person in your life on Facebook is way beyond bizarre. There isn’t much else to say about that really. Social networks are so new to human life (relatively speaking), I don’t even think you can excuse it as someone’s personal way of grieving. It’s just weird.
    I once saw a coworker go to the wall of a young patient who died in the ER during her shift and post something. I was blown away.

    I really respect the husband who immediately took his wife’s profile down. People should express their condolences to the living relations, and console eachother, IN PERSON. Or in a private letter/card. Not on a scoial networking site. That’s basically emotional masturbation or exhibitionism, if you ask me. You’re either doing it to show off or just to make yourself feel better.

  3. I don’t know how I feel about Facebook in a lot of ways, but I definitely agree that some things that go on on facebook walls are extremely strange. I’m lucky that I haven’t yet had to deal with much in the way of death in the era of facebook, but about a year ago, someone I went to high school with died from injuries he got while on duty as a Marine in Afghanistan. I hadn’t seen him since I graduated, and we were never close friends, but he was in all the same classes as me pretty much since I moved to Maryland, and he was always a really nice guy.

    I hadn’t even known he was a marine until someone posted a link to an update on his condition on the Frederick News Post website, and then everyone was hoping aloud, via facebook, that he would pull through. On the one hand, it’s a strange way to find something out. On the other hand, if it weren’t for the internet, I wouldn’t have known. It definitely wasn’t a case of people finding out bad news in a bad way, because I’m sure his family and close friends knew what was going on before the world on the internet.

    Anyway, I decided to post a story about something I remembered about him on my blog, not because I only just remembered it, but because it’s something I think of from time to time. I was more affected than I thought I’d be hearing he’d died, and I was upset that I couldn’t go to his funeral, so I just wanted to post a good memory.

    After some deliberation, I decided to link to it on the facebook memorial page one of his close friends had set up for him. Half the reason for the page was to set up a kind of fundraising thing for other wounded soldiers in his memory, but it was also to post good memories. And in general, people were really good about it. There wasn’t really anything inappropriate on there, and it was kind of nice to read all the happy stuff people had to say. I guess it was a little different from writing directly on his wall, which a lot of people were also doing, but overall I think it turned out nicely.

  4. I agree with you, Sara — it’s weird. And in a weird way, it also seems to create denial, doesn’t it? I saw a memorial page for someone and was struck by the “conversations” the people were having with her. I’m no psychologist, but I’m not sure whether that works out to harmful or helpful in the grieving process. As Karen pointed out, it is just such a new thing in the human epoch, it is hard to judge. But it is certainly part of our evolution away from privacy. Spooky.

  5. I feel like it’s weird too. However, I also feel like there are so few opportunities to mourn or celebrate/remember a loved one that I feel like it could be nice to have a place to post those things. For me, I feel awkward bringing up that kind of stuff. I might want to talk about someone, but I don’t want to make others upset, or have them feel awkward that I’m upset. It seems like a safe, appropriate place to write things down, or talk about memories. That said, I doubt I would write anything myself. And I would probably be pissed if I was getting “reconnect” messages from FB. That’s weird. Everyone is different. I do think it’s entirely inappropriate to post things “too soon” because if I ever found out someone close to me died on Facebook, I’d be really upset. But I guess if I was close enough, I’d hear it in person first? But like Kate said, I might not ever find out otherwise. Hm. Tough questions.

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