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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Public displays of grief

Update : 15 Jun 2015, 06:57 PM

A cursory glance at Facebook reveals certain things.

There is righteous grief. Death at the hands of police brutality. Suicide. Lives perishing while crossing the perilous Atlantic Ocean in a cramped boat overflowing with undocumented bodies. These posts crop up on Facebook, shared and commented on, before getting eventually buried beneath another inundation of grief.

Then, there is public grief of a personal kind. The loss of a friend, a parent, a sibling, a child. Occasionally, the posts detail sordid encounters with hospital staff, sometimes messages of hope for the kindness of strangers.

Sometimes the posts are accompanied by pictures of those who have passed on, perhaps snapshots of happier times, or perhaps snapshots of their drearier days, in the throes of pain, hooked up to tubes … and then comes the deluge of consolation. Comment threads run 39 posts deep, people expressing general sympathy to a more acute, more felt pain.

Public displays of grief on social media are not novel occurrences. Last year, the passing of comedian Robin Williams dominated Twitter for days. The outrage over the Bangladeshi bloggers hacked to death at the hands of extremists generated much dismay, shared and re-blogged and re-tweeted.

Then there is grief shared by a smaller, more intimate circle, of the passing of someone near and dear, and somehow that display of grief seems more dishonest.

Why? Grief is not an intimate affair. Grief is shared among friends and families, at funerals and milads, amidst the fragrance of incense and rosewater and the intonations of the imam chanting over the weeping of many.

Death is posted in newspapers, in flyers outside of mosques and on telephone poles. Grief is expressed over telephone lines, relatives on this side of the Atlantic placing long-distance calls to inform a brother or sister or child or parent in New Jersey or Toronto or Manchester that so-and-so has passed.

Yet, to see the same grief shared on a social media platform is somehow mutated. Now, many more pairs of eyes, more than you or I can control, feast on grief that may not even be theirs to share.

Many pairs of eyes scroll through the comments, glancing in a cursory fashion as a plethora of thumbnails claim: “My condolences for your family,” “rest in peace,” “you will always be remembered in our hearts,” “heaven has a new angel now.” Some may even ask: “How did it happen?” -- not out of genuine concern but out of sordid curiosity.

And some will divulge, with pictures of gravestones and “Throwback Thursdays” posts. Others will retreat from social media, perhaps to emerge later or perhaps not to emerge in any meaningful way at all, leaving the curious to seek out answers elsewhere -- on Google, perhaps.

What of the people who do not lurk, but display their sadness on their newsfeed, complete with essay-long posts and Pic Stitch snapshots to boot?

Is their grief any less authentic now that another 1,286 people are complicit in the mourning? Does the sharing of the grief lessen the person-shaped void left behind in the lives of loved ones?

Or does it diminish it, reducing the grief to a 250-word update, soon to be buried under a host of “How to get beach body ready” and “Game of Thrones cast: Then and now” and videos of gamboling kittens? Does sharing the grief legitimise it, give it clarity, heighten its excruciating detail?

Or does it become click bait, another way to get more friends, more comments, more likes, re-tweets, and shares on Facebook? 

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