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.