The response was immediate. People shared their stories of “that time when” (fill in the blank with some inane, inappropriate act that caused someone real pain) I know of one person who learned of his father’s death on social media. Imagine.
Which has really got me to thinking… Have we really fallen that far that we just don’t know how to act? Call me old fashioned, but once upon a time, call waiting was considered rude, breaking up over the phone considered weak and showing up late shameful. Social media has it’s place, yes. But, timing is golden and discretion is the better part of valour. As the article I re-posted asserts, immediate family gets first dibs. The rest of us ought to wait our turn.
So what gives?
The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Mackinlay, an expert in Spirituality and Ageingfrom Australia, says that our modern outlook on life has created such a distance from death that we are losing our understanding of how to find meaning in it. “We live in silos,” she says, robbing ourselves of what she calls our “final career” – namely ageing and finally dying with dignity rather than in anonymity – or in the case of social media – in unwanted publicity.
Little wonder then – that more and more, we are behaving well less and less. I could share a few other stories myself, like the funeral I attended where a shouting match erupted at the graveside. Thankfully I was not presiding and my friends and I were still inside the funeral home when it happened.
When I think about the scene of this funeral that I just mentioned, I am reminded of a surprising (at least to me, anyways) conclusion drawn by Dr. Christopher MacKinnon, a grief specialist from Montreal. (http://www.drchrismackinnon.com/)
He says that through a healthy grieving process, the result is often a renewed sense of “feeling grown up”.
Another of his important observations is that, generally speaking, the first six weeks following a trauma are critical. Even a well intentioned intervention during that period can cause a secondary trauma. Apparently, if a person enters grief counselling too fast, the resulting re-traumatization can be worse that the original trauma – setting back the grieving process years in some cases. People can stay stuck in what is known as “delayed” or “protracted” grief – and – the initial grief symptoms of “not really knowing who you are” can become a more permanent state.
Slow and steady really does win the race where grief is concerned.
It can be true that social media is a quick way for us to reach out to those we know are hurting and it can be comforting to hear from people from farther afield. But no matter how you look at it, it has its limits.
If you are interested in supporting someone, the most complete thing you can do is to hold them – hold them by listening, hold them in prayer, hold them in your arms if that’s appropriate (best to ask if you are not sure), or hold them by some other gesture – but hold them.
And above all, hold them gently. The grieving process takes time and the emotions can be painful. Holding someone too tight, moving too fast, or pushing them get help instead of patiently encouraging them can and likely will increase their pain unnecessarily. There is no getting around the pain we feel in grief. And no two grief journeys look exactly the same. The idea is to hold someone well so that they can experience their pain in a way that pays them respect – the respect we all search for when we want to grow up.
SO… again… what gives?
Posting on social media inappropriately isn’t just insensitive or stupid. It is harmful and self-centered. It can cause real and long lasting damage. If ever you find yourself wanting to post something and are not 110% sure, think again…. and again… and again… and again…. until the urge passes. Send a card by snail-mail instead. Slow and steady wins the race.
And if the urge doesn’t seem to want to pass, maybe you might consider if you yourself are not grieving and in need of being ”held” in some way. Don’t be shy to drop me a line if you would like to share what’s on your mind or in your heart. And the doors to my church are always open. You will find great people there.
I hope this has been helpful. Thanks for listening. Have a great week. God be with you on your journey, wherever that may be.
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Carleton Memorial United Church
Carleton Memorial United Church is a friendly and affirming Christian community welcoming to all. We support and encourage everyone to participate in all aspects of the life and work of our congregation: asking questions, exploring faith, and cultivating gifts. Our church has a place for everyone, regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs, or circumstances.