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Grieving on Social Media (sad face)

By Tracey Dowdy

Bob Dylan had it right when he sang “The times they are a-changing”.  Our lives are increasingly lived out online and that has come to include our grieving.

Until recently I had never heard of “Selfies at Funerals”. It’s exactly what the name suggests. Duck-faced photos of teenagers mugging for the camera with hashtags like “#nansfuneral”, “#suited#and#booted”, and “#Funeral#Selfies”.  Photos are captioned with “this is a funeral selfie yes i am going to hell” and “after funeral selfie lmao”.

I’ll be honest – my first reaction was to be appalled. To take something as meaningful as a funeral and make it about you seems insincere and self-centered. But is it?

I think underlying it all is that when faced with mortality we look for meaning. Death is complicated. It’s abstract. Great philosophers and thinkers can’t comprehend it, so it’s really no surprise we all process it in different ways.

I remember sitting in the airport on the way to my father’s funeral. I was surrounded by people headed off on vacations, business trips, weekend getaways. They were talking, laughing, napping, going about their lives as if the world wasn’t turned upside down. Because for them, it hadn’t. On a certain level I was offended that they weren’t grieving too. I felt like they should know how broken hearted we were. I wanted to yell “Look at us! We’re sad!”

In a way, isn’t that what those selfies are?

“We all want our sadness to matter, just as we want our lives to count for something”, writes Tracy Clark-Flory on Salon.com. “When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer I took scores of photos of myself crying. I didn’t post these on Instagram, and I will likely never show them to another soul, but these moments of extreme sorrow felt like something worth documenting. Part of me knew that my grief would not feel so real even a year down the line, and I wanted to preserve it, to honor it.”

It’s not how I would choose to grieve and it still makes me shake my head a little. To me, they still seem to be in poor taste. But, taking a step back gives us perspective. As Katy Waldman writes in Slate: “Social media may make it easier to launch a stream of frown-y faces into the ether, but Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invent the impulse to reach out when you’re hurting.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.



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