Grief And Sorrow In The Feed
The Facebook News Feed is a new and quite startling element in my life, nothing like it ever confronted me before. I go on Facebook twice a day, once in the morning, once in the late afternoon. I do not answer questions on Facebook, or argue with people there. The more time I spent on Facebook, the less time I spend thinking, creating or learning.
I check my messages, browse the comments on my page. My blog feeds onto Facebook. My blog is a monologue, not a dialogue, and I don't permit comments there, I don't care for my every thought to be subject of argument or dissection, even though, I suppose, it is.
I don't have to engage with it, and I rarely do.
Whenever I do go on Facebook, a thing called the News Feed pops up, and that is the posts of other people. It is a fascinating thing, this stream of human consciousness.
I am intrigued in recent months and years to see that grief and suffering have gone public in our culture, grieving, something that was once considered intensely private, is now intensely public. So are doctor's visits and veterinary crises.
On my page are all of the people who have "friended" me or chosen to "follow" me, and I believe that in return, I automatically get to follow them. To me, Facebook friends are not real friends, they are a new category of associates for which there is no accepted word.
Seeing this news feeds is becoming an emotional challenge for me, as I see a long daily list of death, illness, grim diagnosis, personal injuries and disasters, and almost every imaginable kind of suffering. A hard way for a writer to begin his day.
I am well aware of the suffering in the world, and the loss in my own life, but to me, death and challenge are life itself, not the opposite of life. It is difficult to gauge the psychic damage to people of being reminded continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week of sorrow and loss. I know what it would do to me.
Online eople mourn the death of their dogs, dog surgeries, cataracts, tumors and medications moods and fears, they miss their friends and parents who have passed on, they mark anniversaries of deaths and injuries.
Human visits to doctors are chronicled in detail, one after the other in a long string. I see that grieving and suffering are now public thing. That is a profound change in human interaction, and I am not aware that people have thought much about it.
I do not begrudge anyone the comfort or support they need or feel they need. I have become interested this rise of public sorrow, and curious to know if it is really helpful to people, or sometimes, as I suspect, it prolongs and enhances the process of grief and loss and keeps people from dealing directly with it.
How, after all, does one get used to painful loss if they are never compelled to deal with it themselves?
I don't know the answers to those questions. I have lost some people and dogs in recent years, and I never thought to seek comfort or guidance online, nor would that have been helpful to me in my grieving. I see grieving as intensely personal and individual, and I am not here to tell anyone how to grieve. As a hospice volunteer, I know beteter.
People should, of course, do whatever works for them.
Perhaps public grieving is soothing in that it permits many other people to offer comfort and understanding. To know they are not alone. It seems to be immensely helpful to people to know that others have suffered as well, and have moved through the stages of grief. I'm certain it also alerts friends to suffering and crisis and gives them an opportunity to respond. Those all seem good things to me.
I'm not sure how to handle this river of grief, medical updates and diagnoses, or even what to say to the scores, if not hundreds of people expressing loss and suffering and pain on my news feed. It must help, why else would so many people do it?
For me, there are some ethical concerns about it. First, I am not trained as a counsel or therapist. In my hospice work, I learned to be an active listener, I never offer reassurance or the promise things will get better. In hospice, they don't. In my therapy work with the elderly, I never suggest they will get younger or better, they won't, as a rule. To suggest otherwise would be to lie to them.
It isn't my place to tell them anything, they know where they are. I just listen. On social media, there is no equivalent of listening really. Mostly, what I see people say is "sorry for your loss," or "sorry for your suffering," or "thinking of you," or "praying for you." I do not ever say "sorry for your loss," because it seems so obvious. Generally, I say nothing, because I don't know what to say, and I can't really absorb as much suffering, death or loss as comes streaming across my computer screen in the morning.
Secondly, I worry that if I disclose all of my sorrows, it puts pressure on other people with their own troubles to feel they must respond, even if they can't or don't really wish to. Do I want strangers and casual acquaintances grieving for me and telling me how sorry they are for my troubles? That seems a wheel to me that never stops turning, there is no clear boundary around it.
Since I write in the mornings, I can't really afford to internalize all of the suffering I see or respond – we will all die, everyone we know will die, and most of us will suffer along the way. So I can't read it, and don't. If I do, I could not work. I accept there is nothing much that I can offer in most cases. Of course I am sorry, who would not be?
If people need me, they will contact me personally, or I will contact them if I can help.
This is another ethical concern of mine. Do I have the right to put my grief and suffering into other people, living their lives and going about their business of life and work? How can anyone absorb and respond to the growing use of social media as a forum for grieving, illness and loss? What right do I have to do that? As Socrates pointed out, everyone is fighting harder battles than me, they don't need mine.
When my dog dies, it is not the problem of other people, they have their own dogs and cats who will die, and they don't need to grieve for mine.
When a person dies, it is different. If someone I loved dearly died, I might wish to let other people know about it, it is much easier to do that online. It is also less personal, not even human. My news feed is a valuable and simpler way to communicate grief, I think. But I would want to speak to the people closest to me, and to the person I lost. I am increasingly mindful of not giving my grief, fear, or suffering to other people.
If I was really in trouble, I would want to talk to a profession therapist or counselor. I learned the hard way that there is real help, and it helps.
When I had my open heart surgery, I decided to publish a recovery journal in the hopes it would be helpful to other people getting this increasingly common surgery. Many told me it was. As to the daily trials and tribulations of the procedure, I chose not to write about them at all, not until they were well past. It was my emergency, I had to handle it before I could share it. I had to understand it before I could share it with others.
Speaking only for myself, I feel sharing these things in public would be confusing and distracting for me, and sometimes unhelpful.
Amateurs and para-professionals run amok online, they offer professional and unwanted advice, even criticism, shower others with warnings and unfiltered research and, as far as I concern, enable my suffering rather than leave me to work it out by myself. The idea of turning to professional therapists is almost unheard of on social media now, almost everyone seems to feel qualified to give advice and comfort. Most often, I am not.
Again and again, I find the challenge of modern information and messaging technology is the same: how do we give our feelings and ideas a chance to live and breathe in an era where thousands, if not millions of people respond to them instantly and take our very self away?
What does privacy mean in this environment, and is it really possible to share one's suffering and triumph and challenge without giving it away? How can we expect to have privacy if we give it away so freely?
How does on move confidently in the direction of his or her dreams, and live the life you imagined, if you are not free to imagine it in your own mind? Or heal without the public scrutiny or reflexive response of strangers? I think what I most love about my books is that they get to live out in the world, the response to them is not instant or simple.
People have to think about them, and I have to think about them.
I don't have the answers to these new and important questions. I can't tell anyone how to grieve or where to grieve. They should get help wherever they can, and in whatever way works for them.
I will need to unfollow the people who grieve and suffer in public on my news feeds. I can't take all of that suffering on, and the sheer volume makes it unhealthy.
I am increasingly resolved not to consciously inflict my grief and loss on others.
For me, the healing comes from inside, and if I forget how to heal myself, then I am lost.