Dealing with death is a gritty prospect, all things considered.
Grief manifests in many outlets, besides the obvious trigger of death – we mourn for lost love, lost opportunity, lost friends, and even lost identity. It’s something that few know how to deal with, yet it’s a factor of life that we all have to eventually swallow and accept. Experiencing grief is a nebulous fog that conjures such a vast emotional spectrum. Yet strangely, something this ineffable can be chalked down to a reductive process – a seven-stage merry-go-round of despair upon which at some point we are supposedly meant to disembark, and get back on with our lives.
Death always has and always will remain the frontier of grief that people simply don’t know how to deal with, even if it doesn’t affect them directly. Comforting a person who has lost someone remains one of the hardest feats of human sympathy – straddling a fine line between showing compassion and being respectful of privacy is a difficult balancing act.
At age 24, death doesn’t usually graze the surface of my consciousness. To me, it’s an endlessly suppressed certainty – a concept that will feel entirely surreal until the day my body begins to crumble.
This resurfaced as a tragic and fragile reminder when a friend who I deeply respected and admired was pronounced missing after a solo hiking trek through Nepal in late 2013. Throughout the time of his disappearance, a social media campaign was in full swing to scour the globe for help, and to raise funding for his search party. Denial was the first emotion that came to the fore throughout social media – it’s sad how something as enigmatic as grief can be so predictable.
This followed with a stained sadness nearly six months later when the announcement of his remains being found was delivered via a Facebook post. Outpourings of public affection and condolences followed on the Facebook campaign page. Watching hundreds of interlopers ‘like’ a Facebook status of the death notice of a man they’d never met or barely knew intensified the burning feeling of the tragedy of it all.
Throwaway condolences such as emoticons, ‘likes’, or simply a truncated ‘RIP’ in the face of death are tragically reflective of today’s social media landscape. Reportages on death in mainstream media are now swiftly included with pull-quotes sourced from social media condolences. These often feel shallow and even insincere. These misguided attempts at comfort and support are well meaning, yet often are so impersonal and obligatory that they border on dishonoring the person they are supposedly respecting. Thankfully I can’t speak personally for having lost someone incredibly close to me, but I feel that the 16 x 16px billowing love hearts and abrupt blips of ‘RIP mate’ might grind me down in a time of extreme distress, trivialising what is so much more pain than could be expressed by a nugget of social media.
The uniqueness of grief as an emotion is the privacy that often surrounds it. It’s not vengeful like anger, and it’s not boisterous like arrogance. So why do we feel the need to publicise this emotion in a time of such distress? Death and grief don’t belong on a screen, within a sterile environment where the only other things we are exposed to are inane memes and the groaning of narcissists expressing their first world problems.
Lou Reed was once quoted, "It always bothers me to see people writing ‘RIP’ when a person dies. It just feels so insincere and like a cop-out. To me, ‘RIP’ is the microwave dinner of posthumous honors." Well, what a sad microwave dinner he did receive, all served on the tray of social media.
As my mother often so bleakly puts it, life is merely a dash between two dates. The merit of something that painfully misrepresented surely can’t be worth just a click of a button, or a three-letter acronym typed hastily from afar.