Social Media, Blogs, and Death

Over the last few weeks my aunt has been sharing a blog on her Facebook page about a family with a newborn that was very ill. His name was Michael. He had a host of problems at birth, and each week or sometimes more often, his mom would write an update about his progress or his setbacks, what the next steps were, and the prayers that they needed for their family. I read all of the posts that my aunt shared, prayed for this child and this family, and somewhere along the way became emotionally invested in this family’s story.

I knew that Michael had a big day on Friday and that his parents were praying for a good outcome. It would be a step in the direction of having this little boy able to begin the process of healing rather than suffering. I prayed for him that morning, thought of him during the day, and went about my work. Michael had never been off of a machine to help him survive since birth. His mother couldn’t actually hold him. I hoped he would have some relief that day during the procedure and that this family would be able to see progress in their tiny son’s health.

On Saturday morning I reached for my phone and opened Facebook to find that Michael had died swiftly and painlessly the day before. I sat for a long time looking at that post by my aunt before putting my phone down and trying to start my day with some sense of normalcy, but I felt horrible. In the afternoon I went Christmas shopping by myself, and when I was about a mile from the house I started crying. The road became blurry, and I gave in to the tears.

I didn’t feel like I could cry at home about this. How do you tell the person you live with that you’re grieving for someone you didn’t know? I felt so strange. I knew that Michael was no longer hurting, and that death might have been the best way for that to happen. Based on his mom’s writing he would have had a life of surgeries and pain. No one wants that for their child, but they still want the child and the hope of well being for that child.

When David Bowie died I remember my roommate coming out of her bedroom crying the morning that it was in the news. I felt sorry for her, because I remember being very affected by Princess Diana’s death years ago. With a celebrity I could get it and not feel odd about being so sad. Their lives were always so public and they were always in the news, on TV, on magazine covers. But I still came back to the fact that I didn’t know this family except through social media.

Social media and blogs bring people together that would otherwise never know about each other. While I don’t care at all about what someone on Instagram wore on a specific day, I do care when they share something more personal. A feeling. A story. Why something matters to them. And I suppose that because of this constant sharing, grieving is now a public thing too. (Something Grace pointed out to me.) I thought back to times when people grieved as a nation over Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr., or as a city recently when the Pulse shooting took place here in Orlando. I still can’t visit the part of the local cemetery where the victims are buried, even though I’ve been several times. I can’t think about it. I didn’t know any of those people either, but I finally gave myself a break over feeling so much emotion around that incident after talking to a friend and having her tell me she couldn’t go either, and that it upset her greatly to even think about going. I know that if I went no one would say anything to me if they saw me in the cemetery crying. So why did I feel so strange and so secretive about crying for a child I didn’t know? I honestly think I just didn’t want to explain that particular kind of sadness to anyone.

My friend and I are considering going to visit the Pulse victims at the cemetery this year, together. Maybe nobody owes the world or anyone an explanation of their sadness or despair. Maybe that’s what I haven’t learned yet. I can just be sad. I don’t have to explain it or rationalize it, or act like it’s not there.

I am grateful to Michael’s mom for putting their story out there for the world to see. I think it was a brave thing to do and I know it was hard to write. I hope her writing about Michael brings her healing and peace.

The photos in this post are of my favorite infant’s graves that I’ve visited in the last 2 years. The first photo, Billy, is from Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando and is one of my all time favorites.