Disclaimer: This is going to be one of those posts where the “somewhat” comes into the “somewhat likeable”. In fact, by the end of it, I may need to re-title “not very likeable at all”. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
It’s Tuesday morning, and in addition to the dog surgery, what’s on my mind is wondering if it’s safe to go back into my newsfeeds yet. Someone famous died last night. All of the usual content I read has been replaced by condolences I can’t handle. I have seen no less than 40 posts of memes of this actor, captioned by poignant quotes from his screen career ~ mostly lines from scripts. A statement posted from his widow “liked” by thousands. I saw his own twitter feed – the last posting of which was a birthday wish to his daughter two weeks ago – turned into a digital condolences petition. And this is where my thoughts go -
I cannot imagine being his daughter, turning to such a message for comfort, trying to remember something happy, and seeing a thousand strangers reply in focused unison about his death. I cannot imagine being his widow, seeing my grief for my husband “liked”.
People, what the hell are we doing?
You can blame this on my parents for raising me a bit old-fashioned, but I was brought up to believe that grief is personal. Private. IF YOU KNEW THE PERSON, or YOU KNEW THE FAMILY, you would reach out to extend your condolences either in attending the appropriate ceremonies, or offering help, or just helping without offering since sometimes people in grief can’t vocalize what they need, or you send a note. If you don’t fit into a category of actually knowing the person, or knowing the family, YOU LEAVE THEM THE HELL ALONE to grieve in private and comfort each other.
Let me be clear about this point, watching someone on screen, no matter how their talent makes you comforted by their movies, does not mean you know them. For those of us who appreciated his work, his life has not ended. We can connect with him anytime via Netflix and revisit the same sense of connection we had before. For those who knew what he was like “off script”, and how he liked his coffee, and if he smelled like aftershave or laundry detergent when he hugged them, or that will never get another birthday wish or anniversary card, his daily contribution to their life has ceased. Connection ceased except in memory. Your knowing he is deceased when you hit ‘play’ on the remote is NOT the same kind of grief that a friend who has known someone for decades experiences.
Let me be clear about this other point, ‘LIKING” is not an expression of condolence. Social media has made grief a competition for ‘likes’ and that’s wrong. Grief should not get 1 like, or 100 likes, or 1,000,000 likes. If someone says something really sad in your world and the best amount of your attention it warrants is a split second ‘like’, lay off the like button. If you don’t give enough of a damn to write an actual well wish, then move along. As much as the age of social media would like us to think otherwise, every once in awhile, it is okay to get the news of something sad, and say to yourself “Wow, that’s really sad.” Then maybe you leave it there. Maybe you reach out to your personal circle with a text or a phone call, or you find a way to honor what that person meant to you within the bounds of your own life – watching a movie that person was in, reading a few quotes, reminding yourself that it’s been awhile since you ‘yawp’d’ and finding a way to do that. But maybe you, as a complete stranger, don’t intrude on the grief of a family. You may have put on your ‘it’s being supportive hat’, but noise is not being supportive. ‘Likes’ and ‘Retweets’ and 140-characters are noise. They are not sincere loss. Their grief is not about you, and they should not have to be burdened with the obligation of gratitude for your grief tweet.
Can we stop with the memes? If you hear about the death of someone that touched you in some meaningful way, and your first thought is “wow, I should pull up a photo of them, find a good quote, and create a meme that might go viral on Facebook’, you, sir, are an asshole. Unfortunately, a lot of us choose to ‘share’ and ‘retweet’ assholes. Mainly because it doesn’t dawn on us in the moment that they’re assholes.
When I saw the news about his passing (I’m not repeating his name in this post because I don’t want to add to the ‘trending’), I tell you, I took a good solid think about what or IF I wanted to post about it. Feeling already inundated by the headline shares and meme shares, and what seemed to be at least 23 separate people just posting listings of his movies and characters, I asked myself “how can I help?” and “what do I – me, myself – not the dozen memes or celebrity quotes, but simple me – think about this?”. I thought it was sad. Tragic. I thought about how depression is a bigger asshole than death-meme-makers. I felt sad again that Good Will Hunting was a brilliant character portrayal on his part and that I’ll never see another new movie with him in it. I thought about watching The Bird Cage. But I didn’t.
A solid 30-minutes later, I had a brilliant epiphany. I asked myself if anyone was expecting me to comment on it, and why they would be. In this day and age, our social media gives us the illusion that people may actually expect or wait on our comments about tragedy, so we feel obligated to post. That is my ego talking, not my grief. If you want to check your ego, ask yourself why you think the internet gives a damn about your opinion on the suicide of an actor you never met.
Be helpful. Be considerate. Be kind as often as possible. Be respectful if you can’t be anything else. I try to keep these things in mind when I’m posting, though I am human and I fail too. Helpful, though, is the word that started to stick out to me. In tragedy, how do you be helpful in a meaningful way? Please do not confuse R.I.P. retweets with something meaningful.
Instead, I asked myself who I know that struggles with depression, and I made a mental note that I needed to reach out to them this week – in person, or with a call, with a PERSONAL CONNECTION. Because instead of focusing on a stranger, or sending messages to that stranger’s wife and child that I hope for their sake, they do not see, there are people present in my day-to-day that need help. That need a connection and a reach out and a check-in. If I want to think about tragedy, I might better consider how to prevent one that can still be prevented, rather than focusing on what poignancy I can come up with for a stranger to see how many ‘likes’ it might get.