What I didn’t post on Facebook

Posted on Sep 29, 2014 | 8 comments

DSC_0432The most important things that happened in my life this summer never ended up on Facebook.

I am a Facebook addict, posting, liking, following and sharing daily. But when my beloved brother-in-law and our family dog both died within days of each other, I did not post. I did not comment or share.

I did eventually post a link to Ted’s obituary. But I didn’t really share my grief.

About Milla, our Maltese-Bichon cross, who was a tenth birthday gift to my daughter (now 16) and who had become a full-fledged member of our family, I posted nothing.

Ted’s death of cancer was tragic, if long expected. His first diagnosis was 22 years earlier (long before I met him and married his brother), and the time he gained thanks to early and aggressive treatment was miraculous and wonderful. The only Ted I knew was  post-diagnosis Ted, and he lived a rich and rewarding life. It was also a life marked by repeated cancer scares and recurrences. When the cancer finally won, Ted left behind a wife and two young sons, along with a grieving extended family.

Milla’s death was sudden and violent. The day after Ted’s burial, she slipped out the door of the house where we were staying, ran into the street and was hit by a truck.

The two deaths, so different but so close in time, were for a while inextricably linked in their emotional effects on me, my husband and my family. It was confusing.

But this is not about that. It is about what I learned about the difference between my life, and my life on social media.

As is likely the case with many writers, I spend large portions of my time in my house working alone, either in a small office or on the sofa or, if nobody’s home, at the dining room table. I don’t go to an office and see colleagues. I don’t make a lot of phone calls. I go hours on end without speaking.

So Facebook is a social outlet for me. Unlike my shy-er real-life self, I am quite gregarious on Facebook. I comment; I like; I share. I buy, sell and freecycle. I seek advice. I post daily on both my own page and my author page, focusing on everything from my small victories as a newly-published novelist to my disgust with the Restoration Hardware catalog.

Facebook helps me feel connected. It keeps me up to date on the activities of neighbors, friends and relatives. I often tell my sister she should get on Facebook so she would know as much about my life as my FB friends do. And I’m only half-joking.

I am sometimes troubled by the time-sucking aspect of Facebook, but mostly, I find it gives me more than it takes. I appreciate Facebook especially for the way it has reconnected me with people I knew in other places at other times: childhood friends and neighbors, college classmates, people I worked with in my twenties and thirties, before I married and had kids. These are people who, unlike most of the people I interact with today, knew me in what sometimes feels like other lives. We have shared experiences, shared references. Connecting with them has added a feeling of integration and groundedness to my fragmented life. So no, I’m not a Facebook hater.

But loss and pain: these feelings, I discovered, I did not want to share on Facebook. I did not want to post about death and receive 73 “likes” or even 73 loving, empathetic comments. I did not want to engage in a public discussion of these losses, at least not on social media.

As a consequence, I didn’t post at all for a while. That felt strange, but if I couldn’t talk about the important things, why would I talk about anything else? Still, after a couple of weeks, I resumed. My engagement with social media gradually went back to normal. And that, too, felt strange.

I think there are a few reasons I was so reluctant to share my grief. First, while it is quite possible to post something profound on Facebook, there’s no guarantee it will come off the way you intended. Conversations are random and unmoderated. The “like” button is extremely limiting. The narcissistic aspect of any Facebook post is hard to ignore and seems incompatible with respectful mourning. I wanted to respect Ted’s family. I did not want to appear to be seeking attention for a loss that was mine but was more deeply his wife’s, his mother’s and father’s, his children’s and his brothers’ (one of whom was my husband.)

In addition, my feelings were complex—and Facebook is not given to compexity. The conjunction of two losses was confusing. The human loss was more important. But the shocking loss of our family pet was touching me in a more day-to-day, visceral, gut-twisting way, and I felt a little ashamed of that. The complex feelings I was grappling with were impossible to express in a Facebook post that might be read quickly or simply scrolled past. They were complicated. They could be misinterpreted.

But mostly, I think, there was something else. A reluctance to show my weaker side, perhaps. Pride? Maybe. It is so pleasant to share successes on Facebook. And it’s fun to get encouragement after small defeats. But this was not a small defeat; it was, instead, something that laid me very, very low. It made me sad. I was afraid it was making me needy.

And that, it turns out, was not compatible with my desired persona on Facebook. The self I put on Facebook is a construction; a particular version of myself that I want the world to see. Isn’t that true for everybody? Facebook communication is a form of play-acting. It’s fun and, to a degree, satisfying. But it’s not entirely real.

None of this is, or should be, surprising. But thinking about it all made me re-commit to making more  time for real, face-to-face connection. I was traveling for a few weeks after Ted and Milla died, but as soon as I returned home, some dear friends who knew Ted a little and knew Milla a lot (they had hosted her in their home when we went on sabbatical a few years ago) invited me over for dinner.

We talked about my losses. They shared my grief. It was painful, and it was freeing. It felt a little like a sacrament.

Nothing on Facebook will ever feel remotely like a sacrament.

I still love Facebook. I will probably share this blog post on Facebook, despite the irony, because that’s what I do. Besides, I’ve now digested my raw feelings and turned them into something that feels a bit more polished. An essay. Something that fits my desired persona.

But I will also proceed with a renewed mindfulness of Facebook’s limits. Facebook does indeed provide a kind of community—but it will never be the only kind we need.

8 Comments

  1. So thoughtfully explored and well-articulated, Suzanne. I am sorry again for the terrible losses you and your family incurred this past summer.

    You have helped me understand why I was such a spotty facebooker for a couple of years. Soon after I joined facebook, my father became very ill; he died; my mother faced depression and declined in ways that led us to move her into assisted living. These were all deeply difficult and painful things to go through. So of course I wasn’t on facebook– how would I ever have talked about them? How to expose oneself and one’s problems and pain in any way that makes sense within the facebook arena?

    • That’s just how I felt. It took months to come around to writing and posting this. I am sorry about your father, and glad that you are back to posting often on Facebook. But we all need to pull back sometimes.

  2. I feel the same about Facebook. I use it as a place to post funny things.

    • Zamora, you are not alone in that! Thank you for responding.

  3. Beautifully written. I’m sure you needed time to digest all your grief to write. Feelings are the same about Facebook. I’m so sorry about your losses. Life hits us with a jolt sometimes. Hugs to you and your family.

  4. Thank you for putting into words and sharing. I appreciate your process and identify with it. I am so sorry for the loss of Ted and those who loved him. So sad to hear about Milla’s passing. There is nothing like a sweet pet. When a person’s post/blog is genuine, it helps all of us feel less isolated. As selfish as I know this sounds, you helped me today with your words. Thank-you.

  5. This is beautifully written, and meaningful to read.

  6. Idk if it’s ironic that I saw the link to this post via FB, but I’m glad that I took the opportunity to click the link and to read your heartfelt words.

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