my aunt died a year ago and this is something i wrote immediately after that i still feel acutely now, we love you, sisi, happy birthday

grief is so ugly and stupid

the way you can feel so normal and divert your thoughts from it without even trying, how you can even talk about it or the person without it hitting you and then how it will come out of nowhere anyway and hit you so hard you can’t breathe, and you’re crying in your car when you didn’t even feel sad ten minutes ago

i don’t want my aunt sisi to be dead. that’s what grief is. i don’t want this, i don’t know how to accept this, i don’t know how to be in a world where she’s gone and there’s no option but to

she was my closest relative for a long time, i had my family and then my aunt and cousin and uncle and then all the other ones were on a ring outside of that, and she was smart and weird and opinionated and i don’t have any of those awful lingering memories of her that i do of other relatives, times they made me feel stupid or small, because she didn’t do that, she wasn’t like that

we moved away and i wasn’t good at keeping up, it got worse when i left facebook for my own sanity, i’m not good at phones or texts, i don’t reach out, i have a weird sense of humiliation around first contact even when i want to connect with people, a bad friend, a bad family member

but i texted her on her birthday and she was already gone, even though we didn’t know, and she died alone, and it was just one of those things, she’d just turned 69 and some combination of the things that made her body go simply stopped, she was too young, but that’s how it goes sometimes, i think she’d be sad but she’d say that too, that sometimes life is unfair and short but she got to have people who loved her and grandkids who adored her and she helped make me and my sister who we are, she was vital to us, and she was proud of us, and i already missed her, living so far away, but she was in the world and now she isn’t and it’s unfair and it hurts and it sucks, it’s a worse world without her in it

she was really curious as a person and she had lots of spiritual beliefs that seemed goofy to me because i’m not a spiritual person, but i think she’s facing this next part with curiosity, with interest in what’s next, and i hope those things are true for her, i hope there are mountains and pit bulls and art glass where she is, i hope she knows how much i loved her, how much i love her, how special she was, and how i wouldn’t be who i am without her, and how grateful i am for that

grieving in the time of facebook

I’ve been on the internet for a long time – since at least 1996, more than TWENTY years – and I have made a lot of friends in that time. I’ve made serious, lasting friendships. I’ve made short but vibrant ones. I’ve had friendships fade away. I’ve followed people as their handles and interests and careers have changed. I married a woman I met on the internet. My internet friendships are really no different to me than the ones that I have because they developed in close physical proximity. Connection is connection is connection.

In the last month, two women that I absolutely adored and knew only online passed away. Both were smart, funny, lively women. Both deaths were unexpected, even if it was in different ways. And I found out about both through Facebook from someone who was not a mutual friend.

I know that social media has complicated a lot of things that used to happen in relative privacy – pregnancy, miscarriage, illness, mourning – because they now happen semi-publicly and surrounded by strangers. I’ve seen a lot of thinkpieces that say this is a bad thing or ones that focus on people who jump the gun and post too soon before the closest people can be told and sure, there are good points to be found about etiquette and timelines, but I feel like a lot of them miss the mark on the power of that public mourning and attribute it to some kind of pageantry. But that’s not at all what I’ve seen.

Watching my friends be mourned by both people I know and people I don’t is moving. It’s painful. It’s joyful. It’s human. My wonderful, smart, funny, kind, talented friends were so, so loved. People are so grateful to have known them that they’re sharing that gratitude publicly, preserved on the internet for others to see. I’ve seen hundreds of tributes to these women, from grand to simple, and they are all so clearly meaningful to the people who post them. To call it pageantry is insulting.

I’m grateful for the public grieving social media allows. It is so joyful and heartening to see that someone you loved was profoundly loved by so many other people, that their life had an impact on people you will never know beyond their post. And because I knew these people only from a distance, it allows me to mourn them when normally I wouldn’t really have the chance.

I can be a crappy friend. I’m in my own head a lot, so I often forget to reach out to the people I love. I don’t engage as much as I want to because I don’t want to leave people hanging when I suddenly find it too hard to keep going. But the internet, through Instagram likes and Twitter faves and Facebook reactions and Words With Friends games, has given me a way to say in small way, “Hey, I’m here. You’re great.” without the risk of disappointing someone because I end up disengaging. And those likes and faves and reactions on my own posts give me a happy thrill of connection.

Being able to read and react to memorial posts has been a powerful source of grief processing for me, which is not at all something I expected. I miss my friends. I miss them so fucking much. Seeing that other people miss them feels cathartic and comforting and human. And I hope these hurting strangers feel the “I loved her too” that I mean with every click.