Updating Facebook profile pictures makes grieving through social media easier

Updating Facebook profile pictures makes grieving through social media easier
Me and my mama on my 28th birthday.

I was in the room December 27, 2011, when they removed my mother from life support. It’s a crazy circle of life to be there watching your mother take her last breath, knowing that there was a joyous day only a few decades before when she watched you take your first. In that moment bridging an ending that was 65 years in the making and a new beginning of “So what do I do now? I have NO clue how to plan a funeral!,” I thought about how would I say it. How would, or should, I say that my mother just passed away. It sounds so simple, to say it just like that: “My mother just passed away,” but at the time it didn’t. It didn’t feel simple. It didn’t feel like enough.

Through Facebook, a lot of my friends and acquaintances were aware that my mother had been in and out of the hospital for months (actually, years) and that this last time didn’t look good. I’ve come to see all kinds of random and almost inappropriate things written in status updates, but I was on the fence about announcing a death in one of mine. Initially, I did what felt like the most natural thing to do. The same thing I did when I heard Michael Jackson passed away. I updated my profile picture. When I couldn’t find any, her picture was worth a thousand words.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Romans 12:15 in the bible is one of the reasons I was able to attend another funeral less than a year after my mother’s, or even attend birthday parties and baby showers. I feel my own pain, but I also know that life continues and I have to celebrate the good times when they happen and empathize with others in their sad moments. This scripture also reminds me of how social media can be used for good and not evil because it allows us to do exactly what it says.

When I see pictures in my timeline of my friends in happy moments with their mothers, fathers and kids, I can “Like” them and share in their joy. When losses happen, I can reach out to them and let them know they are in my thoughts and prayers. Collectively, social media is a way for us all to celebrate and grieve with the support of others. At least a few times out of the year, not only am I my mother, but I’m also Aaliyah, Tupac or any other celebrity that may have an untimely passing that truly touches me. All through my newsfeed, I see my friends updating their pictures the same way and it’s fun to reminisce and remember the highlights of a person’s life, together.

I came to think of all this recently when a friend of mine updated her cover photo to a picture of her mother. Her mom suddenly fell ill and my friend was out of the state to be with her and the rest of her family. I hadn’t heard any updates on her mother’s status in a few days, but when I saw she changed her cover photo, I didn’t have to ask what happened. I knew.

Changing a photo. I like this approach.  It takes the pressure off of figuring out what to say and when to say it, because Lord knows you will get more than enough practice saying it over and over as the comments and condolences begin to stream in. The photo takes some of the sting out of a devastating moment and makes it an honoring. It’s not about re-telling this sad thing that has happened to YOU (because it's all about you, right?), but about celebrating the legacy of this wonderful person’s life and how it touched your own.

As my birthday approaches in only a few short days – God! How I love Pisces season!—I know my profile picture will bear my mother’s face yet again. The day is bittersweet, full of both rejoicing and weeping, but I know there wouldn’t be a day to even feel anything if it wasn’t for her. To see her IS to see me.

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