Grief has become a more accepted topic in the U.S. and if you are active on social media, there is no shortage of accounts addressing grief. In fact, you can take courses in addressing grief through photography, writing, painting, or with individual online counseling sessions. Writers are producing a range of books and many authors provide online lectures and workshops. Grief is becoming a productive business.
I’m not complaining about this trend. For too long those in grief have felt isolated and even shunned. That still happens as people give the “deer in the headlights look” when they ask about your children and you end with the one that is dead. But as the grief community grows through social media, the grieving can find more connections.
The trouble with these types of sites, and even the businesses, is they stay relevant by keeping you stuck in the same area of grief. I’m not a counselor or grief expert, but it is no secret that grief is a process. Not the Kubler-Ross stages of grief (toss those, please) but a unique journey for everyone. As I look at my immediate family, I can see how we have all processed the death of my youngest son differently. Clearly, it hits the siblings differently than the parents, but even Oliver’s siblings differ from one another in their grief. My wife and I share the grief of losing our youngest son, but we do not share a grief process — that is unique to the individual.
In fact, grief is so unique that you can see the plethora of books trying to address the situation. Parents grieving the loss of a child. Of a infant. Of a teen. Of an adult child. Of a sudden loss. Of suicide. Books for teens dealing with grief of a sibling. A parent. A friend. Sudden loss. Books for supporting those who are grieving. Of a…you get the idea. This is not surprising since they are trying to connect with people with wherever their grief may originate.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites mirror the book world with a range of sites dealing with grief in general and those that address specific losses. While books take for granted that you will read the entire book, social media sites need to keep you coming back. They can’t assume you read chapters one through three, so they keep going back to chapter one.
When my Instagram feed brings up different sites I’ve subscribed to, I realize they keep telling me the same thing. They give the same lists of how to cope with the holidays, share examples of poor grief support, and they provide quotes. Lots of quotes! They love quotes that pull at the emotions, which is easy to do when someone is in grief. I’ve been told many (many!) times over the years that something I’ve written has brought people to tears. That is hardly surprising since I’m writing about the death of a six-year-old boy to cancer after nearly three years of treatment. It is sad. But I’ve never written that way to manipulate those emotions.
I’m not accusing those in the grief industry of manipulating emotions. Some may be doing that because they want you to purchase their product, but others are simply trying to offer support. The problem is that as we grieve, our needs change but the social media feeds stay in the same place. As a result, they encourage you to tread water in the pool of grief. It is a pool we are all thrown into and come up sputtering, so learning to tread water is essential in the grief process. For a while, we just need to stay afloat.
But at some point, just to continue this analogy, we need to start swimming. If we keep swimming we’ll get to the shallow end and be able to stand, even in the midst of grief. We’ll never get out of the pool and most of us don’t really want to, but we do need to move from the deep end and we do need to quit treading water. Many of our grief sites and social media are not able to get us to the shallow end, meaning, implicitly or explicitly, they encourage us to keep treading water. As everyone knows, you can only tread water so long before you drown.
I’ve decided to exit my grief-related social media accounts because they are no longer helping me. They only hold me back. Again, I’m glad these resources exist and I encourage the grieving to seek them out. But combine it with some counseling, someone who can make sure you’re not just treading water, but learning to swim. Recognize that at some point you have moved beyond those basic expressions of grief to where the grief is part of your life, but not one that is pulling you under.
Plus, once you reach the shallow area, you can turn around and begin to help others in grief. When you are treading water, you can only help yourself. I know my little boy, who was good about caring for others, would want me to help pull people to safety.
2 thoughts on “Treading Water”
Thank you especially for that last paragraph, Derek.
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I love the photo of the stack of books. It includes some of my favourites. And there are books out there that I would want to throw against the wall – but I have kept them in case they seem more relevant at a later time (when I find myself in a different part of the grief pool) I’m not on social media, so I have no perspective regarding posts on FB, instagram, etc, but I have been MUCH MORE TROUBLED by resources that want to push me to the shallow end than I am by resources that acknowledge what is like to feel as if I am drowning or barely keeping my head up. As a bereaved person who lost my father at a young age and recently my husband in middle age, I do not feel at all held back by acknowledgement of grief at its rawest, messiest, or weirdest. Even when the experience described is not my own, I feel accompanied and curious when I read the words of other bereaved people in whatever stage they find themselves.
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