With Facebook being the epicenter of so many interpersonal interactions in today's world, it's no wonder there are many stories of relationships being changed and even formed through this social networking site. But my story is different.
On Dec. 22, 2010 my father was killed in a private plane crash in upstate New York. My whole world was turned upside down in an instant and I felt that father-daughter connection would be gone forever. I was lost and left with no fatherly guidance. As I traveled on my roller coaster of grief, I tried desperately to find that closeness with my dad that I held so dear. While in the past people who lost loved ones may have gone to a cemetery, I found myself gravitating to a new and unexpected memorial site: Facebook.
Though I still made occasional trips to his grave site, it was my dad's profile I found myself attracted to daily. With each message I posted on his timeline and photo of him I tagged, I started to build a new connection with my father despite his physical presence being gone. Obviously, I knew he could not sit at his computer to check my status updates and comments on his profile, but the mystery surrounding cyberspace and heaven seemed to fall on a similar plane. If an email can ostensibly travel through space, why couldn't my messages and posts reach my dad in heaven?
This may seem like a juvenile thought on the surface, but the underlying significance remains the same. Aren't we all just trying to ease the pain of the grieving process and seek connections in this world? When one of those important relationships is unceremoniously ripped away from us we are left clinging on to any shred of a link to that special someone. I find myself not alone in this way of thinking. In the minutes, and even days, after the recent tragic movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., thousands took to Twitter and Facebook to express their grief. Memorial pages were set up, statuses were changed and a sense of community was formed in a time when our foundation of beliefs of what is good and bad in this world were rocked to the core.
This incident is a perfect example of how we are now able to express our grief on a massive level and share our responses. This gives us all a sense of comfort during a time of tragedy. To know others are feeling a sense of loss and sadness, it ultimately makes us feel less alone and softens the sting of overwhelming grief. I found this to be true on a personal level as well.
Not only can I maintain a sense of closeness with my father even after his tragic passing, but also I am able to understand the important influence he had on those around him, including his friends, colleagues, former patients and even ex-girlfriends who were posting on his page. When I saw others and not just myself commenting on my dad's wall, I felt that sense of community and learned how my dad was shaped into the person I knew and loved. With each new post I discovered different facets to my dad's personality, and it gave me the sense of an ever-evolving relationship despite his passing. I've gained the confidence that I will continue to unearth things about my father and these discoveries will help to maintain my connection to him.
If we are aware of the new opportunities to create, change and maintain a variety of relationships then they never really have to end. By writing on my dad's wall and tagging him in photos I am able to feel that bond again and it gives me the sense he's still around and guiding me. That powerful impression is something I was seeking and was able to find through the use of social media. Perhaps in this new generation of technology our catharsis for grief has taken on a new form. This shift from leaving flowers at a grave site to leaving a heartfelt status is a sign of the importance of social media during both mass and personal tragedies and a way of having my father's spirit live on.
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