Saturday, October 8, 2011

How Social Media Is Changing The Way We Mourn

Social Media has come a long way in a very short period of time and has changed the way we live our lives in many ways. It's changed the way we look for love, the way we look for jobs, the way we inner act with past friends. It's even changing the way we deal with the loss of a loved one. Some may disagree with me but I think social media helps us with the healing process by giving us a constant outlet to our loved ones during times of grief and sadness. Through social media we are always somehow connected, we are never completely alone. Here's my story........

.........My Uncle Phil recently passed away. I received the news of his passing on the morning of July 5th, 2011. As I numbly drove to work that morning I did not want to believe the news I had been given only minutes before. Then as my car rested at a red light I took out my phone to glance at my Facebook page. There along with the hectic ramblings of a post holiday morning the news of Uncle Phil's passing was all too real. Just like the words from that song by the Beatles.."...I read the news today.....". From the palm of my hand I read over and over again from family members as far away as Boston and Philadelphia. My Uncle Phil was gone.

My cousins, my brothers, my sisters, my nieces my nephews, my aunts and my uncles were all just as shocked as I was. The posts read like a timeline of unanswered cell phones calls that must had gone on the night before while we slept. It had all started around midnight. Family member after family member not knowing who to call or what to think had taken to the one constant in so many of our lives: Facebook and had posted their sadness and disbelief. Their posts of "rest in peace Uncle Phil" that had been left in those waining hours were filled with comments by their friends, coworkers other parts of their families I was not related to were offering their condolences and paying their respect to my Uncle. Sometime the night before the death of my Uncle Phil had gone viral and my head was now spinning in the aftermath.

Over the next few days leading up to my Uncles rosary service and funeral. Time after time I would find myself alone in a car or at work. Feelings of grief, sorry and anger overwhelmed me. I wanted to cry or just scream out loud in frustration. Not knowing who to turn to I would just look to Facebook and find a family member who was somewhere feeling the exact same way. I would see a post or a comment they had left minutes or hours before. Grieving, lonely, sad, frustrated just like me. It would take me out of my current state of confusion and put back where I found myself needing to be over and over again in those days. Not a saddened nephew but an elder cousin who needed to help his family through this hard time. And like I've stated I wasn't alone. In the moments where I found I didn't have the words the wisdom the patience or the understating someone else would. There would be another cousin or family member or friend ready to console whomever was feeling lost at any given moment.

Mourning can be such a lonely time and we often don't have the words to express to one another the pain the sorrow, misery, regret a recent loss has left us with. In modern times when we don't know who to turn to we scream into cyberspace. We whisper into the Internet and in those lonely seconds as the words are still echoing off the ceilings of our bedrooms the walls of our cubicle the interior of our car someone answers. A friend a cousin a coworker knows exactly how we're feeling at that moment and just when you thought you were so alone someone will answer back "it's okay, I'm here for you"

In the days following my Uncle's passing a tribute page was set up for him on Facebook. Not long after we had gathered in a church for him we started gathering on a Facebook page for him. Only this time there was not start time no end time. No pall bearers no flowers. Just memories old memories new memories. We didn't even have to worry if we didn't have anything to say or share. Matter of fact, we can visit and no one even knows where there. It's not a church its not a cemetery. It's just a constant flowing river of the life and times of Phil Vargas. And the love flowed. Suddenly a man I had loved and admired so much as a youth became a superhero a legend. Over and over people who's lives he had touched came one by one to share their stories. To chanel their sorrow on a wall that would stay forever in cyberspace just as those memories would stay forever in their hearts. They didn't have to tell the stories over and over. Once is enough in the cyber world. One story, one post, one click and it's there for eternity.

It doesn't take a tribute page to keep them alive. I will often see friends wishing Happy Birthday to lost loved ones on their special day or remembering them on on the anniversary of their passing. Today I noticed a sister paying tribute to a brother lost years ago by putting a picture of him as her profile picture. Like I said our individuality shows in how we mourn but the norm now is so social we are changing how we express our lose and in return it helps the healing process. Well at least for me it has for others it may just be a painful way of dragging it out.

The other day I was sitting at my desk and a song came over my speakers. The song was Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. A song I've heard hundreds of times over the years and had always been bitter sweet as I know from stories I've heard the singer is paying homage to an old friend he wishes was still with them. Although I knew the song wasn't written for my Uncle Phil it immediately made me think of him and how I wished he was still here with us. I went to his Facebook tribute page and while the song was still playing I scrolled through messages reading the "I love you" "we miss" "thank you". I smiled and numbly left my own scribble on his wall...."wish you were here". Almost instantly a notification came to me "Phillip Vargas Likes Your Post". His son my cousin who was somewhere in another city probably working with his father on his mind also had seen my post and liked it. It may sound overly romantic but I believe that in that moment we virtually put an arm around one another and promised each other 'your not alone I miss him too we'll get through this together'.

As we are all individuals we all pay tribute in different ways. Some post pictures some post memories some post videos. Friends and loved ones pay tribute by changing their profile picture to that of a loved one during their time of mourning or to remember a lost brother on their birthday or anniversary of their lose. We never really have to say goodbye anymore we just remind one another of how much we miss their presence. We pay tribute we post pictures we post songs we talk about the good times. Our friends and family are able to see these thoughts as they run through our minds almost instantly.

Our Facebook and Twitter pages will outlive us all. In the days and even years after our passing loved ones will continue to scroll our walls, read our thoughts laugh at our pictures and in some cases even leave us a message. They will console one another "like" and "comment" random tidbits and stories left by other friends some by people they don't even know just an acquaintance who shared a friend.

Heal together. Social media can help I know it can. Post it, blog it, tweet it.....we miss you uncle Phil....wish you were here....


  1. Love you cousin....thank you for this ...lil phil.

  2. Its not often that a blog post moves me to tears. And its not only because I feel compassion for your loss, but because you describe everything so eloquently, and I feel like when the time comes for me to mourn, as it inevitably will, I will take part in the process you describe. Great piece, Jess. Your spirit comes through whenever you write about something you are passionate about and for sharing this with your friends, too. <3

  3. Jesse you are a beautiful person and your words brought tears to my eyes for so many reasons, I don't often post on Uncle Phils page because sometimes I just can't I think maybe I am still in denial or I don't want it to be true and going to the tribute page is a reminder that it is as much as I do enjoy hearing how many lives he touched and how much he was loved. I have read posts about family having dreams about him, I was hopeful because I really needed closure especially because I was burdened with the fact that I needed to answer a question he asked me....Recently I finally words were said...just a smile and an image of him...I was filled with peace and relief. Thank you for always being inspirational and just a beautiful person. I continue to enjoy all the wonderful memories everyone shares as it has helped me to heal from afar!

  4. Absolutely Beautiful Jesse... I know my dad is smiling down!! It's still so surreal.... :( together we will all get through this one day i hope.. my Dad was the glue, and together as family we will remember how amazing and special he is to us all...

    thank you for everything- and God Bless you, Love and miss you!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. This is such a great post - not just about honoring your Uncle Phil, who from what I have read so much about in these months since his passing sounds like he was a real gem of a guy.

    No, it's also about how social media really has had an impact on bring people together.

    This post truly exemplifies what social media REALLY is.

    IMHO, social isn't about branding. It's not about selling. It's not about SEO. It's not about today's latest Groupon deals, or the funniest YouTube video of the day, or what someone's lunch looked like.

    Nope - It's about engaging. It's about community - it's about being connected. With old friends as well as with strangers.

    A lot of people I know see social as a way of being disconnected. I disagree. I believe it's brought people closer. It's removed boundaries and filters that, prior to social, kept people apart. There is no class system on social. There is nothing that seperates us from each other. It's just people being who they are on a more temporal level. What is more I feel that because people are posting in real time - they are truly speaking about how they really feel in that moment rather than editing themselves. And that brutal honesty opens hearts, and allows people to embrace each other on a deeper level.

    For those of you reading this comment string, let me tell you a story. I met Jesse as a customer of Virgin Mobile. I had a piece of crap phone, and wasn't getting anywhere with their normal lines of customer service processes. So I reached out on their FB page for help. That's where Jesse came in.

    Over time, Jesse and I came to know each other. And we because FB friends and Twitter buds outside of anything related to VM. He's been comforting me on the pending death of my own mother. And he's been a beautiful friend. A friend I would not have known had it not been for social media.

    At least half of my current circle of friends have come to me through Twitter.

    So yes, Jesse, I really believe that social media has a greater impact than most folks realize yet. And it will continue to bring us all a closer and make us feel less alone. Because within 30 seconds of a Twitter post or a status update on FB, you've got someone on the other side reaching out telling you "I'm here". And that, is a wonderful thing.

  6. I wish I could hug you because words can't describe how this made me feel. I am lost for words. Thank you.

  7. Wow, that was a really touching post. I totally agree with all the points you made regarding how we can use social media as a memorial and to help us cope with grief. I'm sorry for your loss. Sending you and your family prayers. -Leah Mackey

  8. So very true. I find my peace with Sonia by going to her page and commenting or going through her pictures or simply posting on my wall about her. Like you said, knowing i'm not alone helps in my healing process. Well said my friend <3