Grieving In The Age of Social Media

Social media serves as a time capsule of our lives.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

“Find it in your hearts to tell people how you feel about them because you may regret…when it’s too late.” — S. D.

I received news of an old friend’s passing. He was only 30. 

As I grieved, I paid a visit to his Facebook profile, which became a Memoriam where people shared photos and memories. 

S (name redacted for privacy) and I met in middle school and became close friends. Kids ages 13–15 heavily center friends, which can define a young teenage experience. You’re impressionable, going through puberty, and in the thick of navigating a new social scene as you transition from a child to a teen.

Thanks in part to my friend S, that era for me was fun, warm, accepting, and positive. His laugh was contagious, identifying, and resonant. We were never far from a laugh.

S was creative, smart, and lively. His personality, magnetic. He could laugh down the hall and you’d know who it was before you even saw him. He loved theater and photography. His drawings from art class were a cut above everyone else’s — colorful, expressive, and full of depth.

As I revisit old memories, I recall:

  • Sharing a table with him in 8th-grade Advanced Art
  • Biking through the woods
  • Getting ice cream at the local shop
  • Laughing at silly inside jokes
  • Making crème brûlée in little ramekins with my mom
  • Eating mousse au chocolat that my mom made

On the morning I moved 600 miles away where I’d be starting a new life in another school, S biked to my house for the last time. The goodbye was emotional. 

His parents bought him a plane ride to visit for winter break. We played Trivial Pursuit, visited Elvis Presley’s house, went to the mall, and jumped in the freezing pool in our backyard to ring in the new year.

Notably, we belted to “Apologize” by OneRepublic featuring Timbaland on a piano cover played by my brother. Our teenage shenanigans are captured on video, which he uploaded to Facebook because it made him happy.

I’m no longer in contact with all the friends S and I shared in middle school. Life pulls you in different directions. Losing touch is normal.

For this reason, my grief feels like it lives in a bit of a vacuum. 

No reminiscing the laughs we shared with old mutual friends. No coming together of sorts.

Enter: Facebook. 

As I turned to his profile, I found comfort in the words and memories shared by his friends and loved ones from his different life chapters. To see how loved he was and how much joy he spread eases the isolation in grieving him. 

Social media offers unprecedented ways to stay in touch or find connection. While we don’t play an active role in everyone’s lives, we still witness from afar the bits and pieces that people choose to share online. 

In the words of someone affected by the loss of S:

“Friendship and connection in a digital age is a strange thing. Someone you meet during a great night out or know for a single month ends up on your friends list. Sometimes, these relationships deepen, but often, you’re just a casual observer of a relative stranger.”

She expounds on how she didn’t know S in the years following their acquaintance, but that doesn’t diminish the impact he made on her. His unexpected death didn’t go unmourned despite the time and distance since their last encounter.

As I contemplated writing my own story about S, I had to think twice:

Who am I doing this for?

What are my intentions?

I scoured my hard drives for photos that would encapsulate our friendship from 2007. I didn’t find any.

I caught myself wanting to display how close we were. 

I almost shared the funny piano cover; too cringey. I stopped myself. 

I realized I have nothing to prove, no reason to justify my grief. 

I still shared a few words on Facebook. Reading other people’s memories of S helped me process the grief, so I offered mine in case it could help someone too. 

My network, including those who didn’t know him personally, extended kind words and sympathy. To have had my grief witnessed and acknowledged felt somewhat healing. 

Social media serves as a time capsule of our lives. In the early days, we volunteered our data without thinking or knowing how it could outlive us.

Now more than ever, we must live (or die) with the consequences of our social media presence, intentional or otherwise.

In 2016, I spent an afternoon in Brooklyn and posted an Instagram photo with a tagged location. He asked me when we’d hang out next since that’s where he lived. 

Due to knowing I wouldn’t have time to see him in that short trip, the tiniest possibility of a chance encounter on the metro still gave me hope. Now that he’s gone, so is all hope to meet again—at least Earthside. 

I would not have learned of S’s death had it not been for Facebook.

In my grief, I revisited messages S had written on my Facebook wall (when that was still a thing). I re-read old DMs (direct messages) where I referenced his Instagram post from the Fall of 2013. I found it again, and in his caption, he wrote:

Screenshot from the author 

Even at 15 when I knew him best, and throughout the following years, S was exceptional at letting you know how much you meant to him through his words and actions. 

In honor of his memory, I’ll strive to do the same.

May he rest in peace. 

© Melissa Chanthalangsy 2022 

Thanks for reading

If you gained value from this post, please consider donating to the WCHS Theater Department as a memorial gift.


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