“Here it is. I’m dead…”
Earlier this year, Derek Miller published to his blog a farewell post—the day after his death. Before this, Miller had been blogging about his fight with metastatic colorectal cancer.
SevenPonds recently published a Just Passed story about the death of Amy Winehouse, the news of which many of us caught wind of in minutes through Twitter.
When fifteen-year-old Alice Pyne, who suffers from Hodgkins Lymphoma, started to blog her bucket list in mid-June, she gained 10,000 followers by the end of the first day.
What does all of this say about the way we hear news of death? The way we approach the end of our own lives? The way we mourn and remember loved ones?
Through the revolution of Web 2.0 and social networks, life is clearly moving more and more online every day. With developments like these and many more, it seems that the end of life and death are doing the same. Certainly this creates a potential for both positive and negative results for both the end-of-life experience and the grieving process.
Blogs like Derek’s and Alice’s that document and share their personal end-of-life experiences can be therapeutic for both the writers and the readers. The act of addressing their situation honestly through the blog can be very empowering for the patient, and their stories can offer solace for others suffering from terminal illnesses. (Stories like those shared in SevenPonds’ Opening Our Hearts series have a similar effect for those mourning a loss.) Blogs create a fantastic community for addressing these issues, and allow people to share and learn from the end-of-life experiences and loss of others.
The advent of social networking sites has blown the lid off of traditional approaches to many elements of death and loss: death announcements, obituaries, condolences, mourning, memorials. As more and more people are getting their news through Twitter, so more people are hearing the news of a death—particularly a celebrity’s death—through their Twitter feed. The channel offers the benefit of reaching far more people far faster than traditional media. It also offers a community for millions of people to offer condolences or express their grief about a loss, a chance they may have never had before the advent of the social network.
But, as our culture learns to adjust to this phenomenon, we should stop to consider the potential downsides, as well, and to determine how we will address them. For example, how might our affinity for the 140-character “RIP” Tweet effect our view of grief, when thousands of people hundreds of degrees of separation from the deceased can express their sense of loss by adding a hashtag? Should grieving be a smaller, isolated process, or can it be beneficial to share a loss with the world?
Additionally, it is important to be aware of the ramifications of a simple comment or post before clicking share. You may have the best of intentions posting your condolences to your friend’s Facebook wall, and it will likely be appreciated–but what if the news has not reached all of her family yet? Information shared through such networks is instant (and, with text and email notifications, sometimes impossible to withdraw completely), and this may not be the most suitable channel through which to receive some news.
Like any of the plethora of social issues that have arisen with the growth of social networking, the effects of this technology on grief, loss, and the end-of-life experience are not solidly beneficial or detrimental. We simply have to approach the issues with the respect and open-mind that will allow us to embrace the positive effects and avoid the harmful.
There is no clear answer to many of these questions. What do you think? How does our social networking effect how we approach real-life death and grief?