Last year, I lost my friend Carolyn. We became good friends in 1993 when I moved to a beautiful coastal town just north of LA. We had little girls the same age who liked to play together, so a weekly play date turned into real friend-time for us. Two years later, I moved away and never made it back.
She is one of those rare people who learned early how to live authentically and love easily without pretense. I cried when we left.
We both got busy with more children and lost contact. Occasionally, I got news about her through friends. A couple of years ago, we reconnected through Facebook. It was so fun to hear about her life. Since I’d left, she’d had 2 more children. She’d also been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, the debilitating lung disease that slowly drowns its victims. She was a rare case, being diagnosed so late and living for so long.
As her disease progressed, she had good days and bad days but remained active and positive and involved in her children’s lives. I could see from her husband’s and children’s posts that she had passed along her easy manners and kind ways. They clearly enjoyed each other.
Last August, she drove a few miles to visit her parents, laid down for a rest, and never woke up. It was completely unexpected. She had been doing so well. Her death rocked the community, and strangely, we turned to Facebook to channel our grieving. (Where else could I go, living so far away?)
This was completely new to me. Hundreds of posts flooded her Facebook page from friends and family, including her children and husband. I read and read as people from my past chimed in with memories and words of comfort to the family—some speaking to Carolyn directly, some to her family. I shared a song I found on youtube. Her daughter thanked me. It helped.
After the funeral, a new round of posts began, commenting on the beautiful service, how well the children had done, how proud she must be of them—the music, the stories. Again, living far away, I wasn’t able to attend, but I felt the catharsis of having been there through Facebook.
I was dumbfounded at how meaningful it was to me.
Seven months later, her page is still thriving with thoughts from her children and friends. Sometimes with angst, sometimes with joy:
From a daughter just a month ago:
why cant you be here to tell me every thing’s going to be okay
(Where else does a teenager speak out loud her angst at losing her mother?)
From another daughter a few days ago:
note to everyone: list one happy memory that you had with my mama, or list the one thing that reminds you of her.
(A call for comfort from a teen. Another chance to share.)
From a friend:
I like checking in when I miss you. And see all the friends you have. Hugs to you, your family and friends from me.
It goes on and on.
I’m not a grief counselor or mental health expert, but I am a grieving friend who found comfort in a string of digital communications. I’m also a mother who knows what it’s like to worry about kids when they’re sad and don’t want to talk about it.
Whatever you feel about social media—its wastefulness or usefulness—these were important exchanges, and where children are often loath to share their grief, I am relieved to see this family using this outlet to process one of the most difficult losses of their lives.
As we say our goodbyes, I have a new appreciation for social media and it’s capacity for sharing and comfort.
– Sally Linford is the author/co-author of four Internet safety books for children and vice president of communications at Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe.org).