Why does Facebook exacerbate grief?
December 18, 2010 1:15 AM   Subscribe

Why am I so grief stricken?

A good friend passed away unexpectedly 4 days ago, leaving me absolutely shocked. I'd only recently (within the past 2 years) reconnected with him on Facebook, after no contact for 32 years...to both of our amazement, we pretty much picked up just where we'd left off; same senses of humor, same favorite movies since our teenage years, similar types of jobs, etc. Now he's gone, and I'm very much sadder than I'd have expected to be, given the circumstances. Also, although we hadn't firmed up any plans to do so, we had talked about meeting in person this coming summer. Obviously this isn't going to happen now. Why is this affecting me so much? I'm not normally the maudlin sort, but it's really bothering me knowing I'll never get to see my old friend in person again.
posted by motown missile to Human Relations (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know that you really need to lay the blame on Facebook: it's terrible when people die. And it can be especially terrible when our peers die. On a symbolic level you're probably mourning more than the loss of this one person; your friend was tied to happy times from your youth that may now seem much more distant, or even permanently lost.

It's a sad thing. Let yourself grieve.
posted by gerryblog at 1:30 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry motown missile.

It's hard to tell specifically why this is so upsetting to you, but it's not hard to imagine why. There's the joy of renewed connection, and then a sudden cutting short of the relationship. It's perfectly natural to feel grief-stricken.

As far as Facebook's involvement goes, I know that a lot of people detest Facebook for promoting superficial pseudo-social interactions, but my own experience is that, depending on how it's being used, it really allows people to feel like they are a real part of each other's lives, despite being geographically distant. So perhaps the incongruity you perceive is that you would not have expected to feel this much grief over someone whose life you weren't "really" a part of. The fact is, you lost a friend. It sounds like you lost a good friend. It's ok to be grief-stricken. I would think it stranger if you weren't.

Once again, my condolences on your loss.
posted by bardophile at 1:32 AM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

A very similar thing happened to me when I found out about the suicide of a childhood friend (who I didn't know terribly well, but still) a few years ago. It's not just the person that's gone, but the idea of them, too. Everything they represent, everything they were and everything you shared. It's all the things you did and everything that could have been, irreversible and beyond your control. It makes you rethink your own place in this world, and just how fragile and precious every moment and relationship is. It's a lot to take on in addition to the loss of your friend. Looking directly at the source of your grief right now can almost be like staring at the sun – too intense and painful and so you only focus on what's peripheral. You expect that to be easier and you wonder why you are still feeling the intensity. But the light is not bounded, and it spills over to all that surrounds it.

I'm sorry you are going through this. I hope that you find community and comfort in the answers here.

(All these things are not really gone, but there is now a point in time, moving forward, where no new unabstracted instantiations of them can be made. Which is part of why memories can be so important and helpful. Hold onto the good ones.)
posted by iamkimiam at 1:45 AM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry motown missile.

As others have said it's perfectly natural to feel this way.

You are grieving for lost opportunities. I would also say that you are in some way grieving for yourself a little too.
posted by gomichild at 1:59 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with everything already said - and, really, let yourself grieve. Let yourself be happy that you reconnected & made another mark on each other. I also recommend you find a way to remember your friend. Anything. Write a poem, reread your old yearbook, visit a favorite old haunt, donate to a charity, drop flowers into a river. Anything to gain a little closure.
Peace be with you.
posted by jsslz at 3:20 AM on December 18, 2010

For me, there is not closure, only developing a way to live with the loss and be able to hold it and look at it and not have it hold me--and it's hard. I am sorry for your loss, and I hope you will come to your own peace with it, in time.

Years ago, there was a personal essay in the NYT's magazine about the death of a childhood friend, and while I can't recall the author (Mary Mc--?), I do remember how she described losing one half of her remembering--that with the death of this woman, there would now be no one who remembered kissing boys behind the bandstand or skipping down the street, and how "the witness to my childhood" was gone, and there would be no one to remember with.

Your witness is gone, and your childhood memories may be bouncing around untethered, and that person who helped you sort and anchor and enjoy them can no longer do so. Seeing the picture and releasing all those floodgates of memory may compound your very human grief over your friend's death.

You reconnected as adults; maybe you could drop a note to his family and *tell some stories* and return a piece of him to them. The act of re-contextualizing a few memories may be of help to you, and a consolation to others who loved him. Again--my condolences.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:01 AM on December 18, 2010 [10 favorites]

If you can, focus on the fact you were able to reconnect at all.

A couple weeks ago, I decided to look up my old high school boyfriend on the internet. And turned up instead a very detailed obituary. He died last month. I had not talked to him or anyone in his family since the late 1970s.

Back to you....realize that you are not just mourning your friend, altho you ARE doing that, but you are also mourning the fact that you won't get to see him in person, and also, most likely you are mourning in general the loss of youth and the passage of relentless time.

For my situation, I looked up the number and called his mom (we'd been close when I was with her son.) She was able to fill in the gaps and we were able to share some stories. It helped. If there is someone you can call, it may help you as well.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:14 AM on December 18, 2010

I am sorry for your loss.

Human grief is not something rational. In the famous WWII jounral kept by Eugene Sledge, he goes the entire war seeing friends and comrades dies, and does not cry once. Then he gets a letter from home that his parent's dog has passed away, and he breaks down uncontrollable and has to be taken off the line for a few days.

What you are experiencing is your emotions. You have every right to them, and you can not separate yourself from them. There is no right or wrong in it - there is just you, which makes it right for you

Trying not to grieve it futile. You must allow yourself to face and deal with the grief.
posted by Flood at 6:27 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think your grief is quite understandable. You miss your old friend; you regret not having the chance to build a new friendship with him; and we are all reminded of our own mortality when someone our age dies, especially someone with whom we share a lot of early memories.

I am sorry for your loss. The poem "Dirge Without Music", by Edna St. Vincent Millay, remains for me a very powerful statement of why we mourn so fiercely; perhaps you will see some of your own thoughts reflected there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have never, ever heard anyone say "I was prepared for how much this grief affected me." I think feelings of loss can overwhelm anyone, no matter how much forsight they have. and something people often forget is how much the loss of those we are not very close to or do not know very well can affect us. Take some time to look inward at how these feelings are affecting you, to remember fondly and mourn this person, and you can transform your feelings of grief into something positive.

but don't be alarmed if it takes you longer than expected to 'get over' it. there is no correct way to grieve.
posted by custard heart at 10:32 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who took the time to post here; your kind words and insights have been an enormous help to me. Every answer posted here is a Best Answer, as each contains a nugget of wisdom that helped me understand this whole grief thing. I hope I can help each of you sometime as much as you all have helped me now.
posted by motown missile at 8:30 PM on December 18, 2010

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