Personal Grief and the Social Media
For us as family the past few weeks have been extremely difficult. For those who don’t know yet: My son, Erick, was involved in a serious car accident on 5 October in which his girlfriend (and according to all indications, his future wife), Thea, was killed on impact. The accident was caused by an approaching vehicle which tried to overtake a 22 metre truck without making sure it was safe to do so. Approximately 3.5 seconds after this vehicle moved out from behind the truck, he had a head-on collision with my son who did everything humanly possible to avoid the accident. (To put this in perspective: One needs approximately 10-11 seconds to overtake a 22 metre truck which is travelling at 80 km/h, and to do this without jeopardising any person’s safety, the distance between one’s vehicle and an oncoming vehicle needs to be at least 600 metres. In this case the distance was around 170-180 metres!)
After we heard the news of the accident, we travelled to the hospital where my son was being treated – about two hours away from our home. He had, considering the severity of the accident, relative minor injuries. After Thea’s parents were informed of their daughter’s death and after I had spoken to both of them myself, I had to make a decision: Should I post this on Facebook or shouldn’t I? I’m very active on Facebook with a fairly large number of “Facebook friends”. The question was whether I could consider them as close enough friends to share this deeply emotional news with? I eventually decided to risk this. But I made the decision, not only to speak about the accident, but to give the basic facts on what had happened as well. (I get frustrated when someone posts a vague message, saying that they are facing a difficult situation, without giving some form of context. “I am in need of prayer!” Why post something like this? All that it leads to is people wondering what had happened and commenting with: “What is wrong? Are you OK?”)
There are times when one wants to post something personal but, for some reason, one is not at liberty (yet) to give the context. Why then not write something like: “I’ve just received some bad news. I cannot give more details at the moment, but I promise to keep you posted as soon as possible”?
After posting a short message, I received many message expressing appreciation for giving some detail on what had happened. Nobody pushed me for more detail. They knew, if I had more to say, I would do so.
But I actually want to focus on the responses I had on my post. It has been said (and I’m one of those who said it) that Facebook is impersonal and does not constitute true friendship. In fact, there are many people who refuse to go onto Facebook for this very reason.
However, what I experienced was something totally different. Literally hundreds of my friends responded on the news. I read each and every message. Each message meant something to me. I realized that every person who had responded, had taken a few seconds or even a few minutes of their time to send this message. It was clear that some had spent a lot of time trying to verbalize what they thought.
What I probably appreciated more than anything else was that nobody tried to explain why this had happened. Nobody offered theological answers to a situation which makes no sense at all. Most just said: “I’m so sorry to hear this. I’m praying for you and Erick.” A number of my closest friends called. A few came to visit. But this episode taught me that friends on social media are indeed friends. They’re more than names and photos. Obviously it’s a different kind of friendship. But it’s friendship nonetheless and these are people that I have come to appreciate deeply.
I interpreted the responses I received as saying: “Thank you for trusting us with this deep pain that you are experiencing. We won’t make matters worse by trying to explain why this happened. We won’t try and give advice. But we will pray for you. We will bear some of the pain with you that you are now experiencing. Your burden has also become our burden.”
And isn’t that true friendship?
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