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Etiquette: Grieving for an Audience

Grief is a complicated issue. I work in the death industry, and I view the tangible representations of grief every day. (In other words, I look at caskets. A lot.)

Like many people, I’m no stranger to personal feelings of grief, either. I believe that confronting and understanding grief makes us better human beings, as it not only strengthens our own resolve to stop crime/cure diseases/love what you have every day, it also helps us empathize with others as we attempt to understand their feelings of loss.

But I also believe that the internet ruins things.

Grief is very much an internal process. We work through our feelings of pain and loss and, hopefully, eventually come to accept that loss for ourselves. However, grief is also a community process. We grieve with others who have also lost what we’ve lost. We help one another and comfort one another. Those circles of grief are often person-to-person, or intrafamilial, but with the rise of online communications, we can grieve with many people in many different communities, over long distances. We can grieve as a nation for tragic worldwide events, even. For instance, the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma gave many people the opportunity to express condolences over the lives of schoolchildren, as well as to exchange information about possibly injured loved ones, and maybe even keep others safe. Grief expressed through social networking is not an inherently bad thing. Let me repeat that before I go much further: I do not think it is inherently bad to grieve over electronic communications.

But I do think that there is a difference between grieving for comfort and grieving for an audience.

Theatrical grieving is always inappropriate. It is one thing to feel grief. It is another thing entirely to take that grief and make a show out of it in order to receive attention from others. I’m going to come right out and say it:

It is wrong to express grief for the sole purpose of gaining attention.

It is wrong not only because it’s tacky (and you know how I feel about things that are tacky), it’s wrong because someone out there is grieving in order to overcome a loss and in order to build community with others. And rather than expressing your grief in a way that helps build that community or helps overcome a loss, you are waving a sparkly flag that says, “LOOK HOW MUCH SADDER I AM THAN YOU. I AM SO SAD.” “LOOK HOW MUCH MORE LOUDLY I CAN WAIL AND GNASH MY TEETH. I CAN DO IT LOUDER AND LONGER.”

Attention-seeking behavior like this completely undermines the reasons we grieve the way we do. And the internet, and the advent of social networking, makes it so much easier to flaunt in this way. It’s like being the widow from back in the day who wore red to her husband’s funeral, and then expected everyone to make her a lasagna because she had a death in the family, and would be too distraught to take care of herself. (I made this widow up. But the point remains.)

I know what you’re thinking: But maybe this IS how others grieve. And it’s wrong to pass judgment on the grieving process of others! And to you I say thusly:

Please. You know exactly who and what I’m talking about.

And if you don’t, then I envy your bubble and would like to live there. I’ll bring the wine.

By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

7 replies on “Etiquette: Grieving for an Audience”

I usually just lurk around here but created an account just to respond to this. “Performative grief” is unacceptable, but I don’t think the kind of people who do it will be dissuaded by an etiquette guide.

My mom is still very publicly and actively grieving my brother’s death four years after the fact. I can’t tell her not to be upset, but I can (and do) suggest that therapy might be more helpful than morose posts on facebook. There are always people willing to feed the cycle with expressions of sympathy, unfortunately, and any negative feedback she gets is dismissed as not understanding what she is going through. Which is especially frustrating, because, hey maybe I lost someone important to me too?

I haven’t found a solution, other than cutting way down on contact with her.

Extrapolating I feel this way about people that excessively mourn the deaths of celebrities. Even if you were a huge fan, you’re mourning the end of an idea you have about a public stranger. Or on top of that: mourning band break ups like the five horse men are riding in.

I call these people “death fuckers.” No matter how far removed they were from the deceased, all of a sudden, that person’s death is all about them. How close they were, how much they miss them, how much they meant to each other. It’s performative grief, and it’s gross.

I’m probably not going to come across great in this, but… Almost 5 years ago, her brother-in-law’s brother, a man she had met twice, died suddenly. The very next day, my step-dad of 15-years died suddenly. At the time, she would talk to me like our grief was the same. Nope, you met your guy twice. You can be sad about it, sad for his family, etc., but DO NOT look at me gutted and sobbing and think we’re feeling even remotely the same thing. Around the anniversary every year, she posts some long note on Facebook about how sad it is, and RIP, blah blah blah. I want to scream at her that she has no right to be THAT upset over someone she’s met twice. I have to remind myself that people do feel things differently, and that she’s probably trying to relate and show empathy, but good lord it’s hard for me to look past my perception that she’s just trying to get attention.

I think that searching for and trying to show empathy can come across as very insincere, especially since it’s impossible to measure who’s grief is “more.” Which is why it’s so hard to say someone is exhibiting attention seeking behavior. Even when you KNOW they are.

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