Mourn however you see fit, friends - Denny Scott editorial
Mourning is a personal process - we all have our own way of missing, or, in some cases, communing with those we’ve lost, and no two ways are going to be the same.
For some, it may be going to a grave and speaking to a loved one as if they never left. Even among those who do that, some do it for their own benefit, to connect with a long-lost friend or family member, while others do it fully expecting there to be a conversation.
There is no right or wrong way to do it (as long as someone isn’t infringing on other people’s mourning with their own), and COVID-19 has proven that even extends to the funeral process. For some, it was necessary to wait to celebrate a lost friend or loved one’s life, but for others it was fine to take in a ceremony online through live streaming.
Something that always puzzled me, however, was the social media aspect of mourning. Years ago, when Facebook was for students and MySpace was for teens looking to show off their music, the idea of mourning someone through their Facebook page, like an online headstone, was the last thought on people’s minds. Now, however, people are passing away and leaving behind their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other accounts and they’re being used by people as a way of remembering those who are gone.
When I first saw this, and this was a number of years back, I thought it was a bit ghoulish because it was rarely for close friends or family and because people were writing something on the digital wall of someone who obviously wouldn’t be able to answer.
It looked socially awkward at best and attention-seeking at worst, and, for awhile, I was lucky because I didn’t have anyone close to me pass, so I didn’t need to see it. That changed, a little while back, when Facebook decided to show users everything their friends were doing, whether it was something they shared or not. Now, whenever a friend posts on some stranger’s wall, I see it, whether it connects with a brand representative or a friend I don’t know.
Last week, however, I saw a post from a friend of mine. The message, which I won’t repeat verbatim for the sake of privacy, was about missing celebrating a friend’s birthday now that they were gone.
I was curious (okay, I’m nosy, but that’s kind of a prerequisite for my job), so I clicked on this stranger’s picture to find out where they had gone. Were they travelling overseas? Were they in the military? Had they moved across the country?
It was none of those. In case the theme of this piece didn’t drive it home, the person in question had died and my friend was mourning that loss by saying he wished he and his late friend could celebrate a birthday together.
Maybe it was because I know my friend a little and know he’s really not much for attention. Maybe it’s because his message was a lot more personal than others I’ve seen but it felt different from when I had witnessed this kind of thing before. Before, it always left a bad taste in my mouth. For some reason, however, this time I didn’t see it the same way.
Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up a bit and realized that, if such a simple thing can help people overcome grief, who am I to judge? Or maybe, in gaining a little bit of maturity (just a little bit), I realized it doesn’t really matter to me, because I don’t have to pay attention to it.
It wasn’t until I started thinking about it less as a grab for attention than a way to cherish the good times that I realized all my friend was doing was sharing his memories of a departed loved one, and was, in doing so, keeping their memory alive.
It brought to mind the idea of an Ofrenda, which I only know about thanks to the Pixar movie Coco (and if you haven’t seen the film, go see it as soon as you’re done reading this issue of The Citizen). The Ofrenda is a temporary shrine set up to honour lost loved ones in Day of the Dead celebrations and, according to the internet, Pixar got most of how it’s handled right. The shrine includes photos and artifacts from the deceased’s life and is often surrounded by food and marigold petals. By enticing the spirits of the dearly departed with things from their life, a family invites them to celebrate the holiday.
While I’m not saying social media is completely analogous to the Ofrenda, I’m saying that everyone needs a way to mourn, whether it’s through traditional cultural means or telling a passed friend’s Facebook wall how much the friend meant to you. As long as it helps, it can’t be wrong, right?