Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Peace in pieces: what it means to grieve online

Grief – five small letters, but an unquantifiable amount of pain. Grief is one of the hardest emotions to talk about, even though we’ve all experienced it, but how does this change in a world where we can’t have any physical contact or group hugs?

There are momentous moments where grief enters our lives and causes an immense amount of pain. Grief is like lemon juice on a small cut, painful but good for you. Like all the best emotions, grief does not allow you to hide. It brings every part of the process of feeling to the surface.

With the deaths of many influential figures this year weighing heavily on us all, I wanted to write a piece looking at grief and how we learn to cope with our lives after loss. This piece is semi-coping for me. As a black student, I feel as though sometimes everything we say or don’t say is part of a larger movement, and sometimes we all need a break. Sometimes we all need a moment to pause and sometimes we all need a moment to grieve.

The internet can become an overwhelming outpour of our singular emotions

We all need the space to feel human, to grieve, to grasp, to grow. Space in a time like this is ironic since we have an abundance of it, but we also need community, we need closeness, we need each other. What happens when our world turns upside down? What happens when we grieve?

The answer isn’t obvious, and I can’t even pretend to be anywhere near close to understanding it. Grief is personal and many of us deal with it in different ways. Our feelings can become entangled with the five stages of grief.

The internet can become an overwhelming outpour of our singular emotions, of all the highs and all the lows. For many of us, the internet is like a diary which allows us to chronicle all of our best and worst moments. This means the drunk nights, breakup tweets, makeup tweets, in-between tweets and selfies galore.

Universal grief is the type of grief the world is experiencing now

We all use it to document our lives whether it’s posting an achievement landmark on Facebook from years ago, hesitantly posting your significant other on a story, or reminiscing over old photos you’ve been tagged in on Instagram. We all have memories shared on the internet, and we all have emotions, but they can both become out of sync during times of personal grief.

Grief can feel isolating and confining. We mourn the relationships closest to us and the moments we lose within our inner circles. However, there is another type of grief, one that I like to call universal grief, which essentially means the grief among the many.

Universal grief is the type of grief the world is experiencing now. The type that clutches at everyone’s hearts and the type of emotion that is shared between characters on Twitter. It’s the type that is felt through every image of a celebrity in their best moments that we all collectively agree is them at their happiest. For many of us, we have seen an unprecedented amount of universal grief shared across the world this year alone.

We remember them and we grieve them

From Kobe Bryant to Juice Wrld, to Pop Smoke and now Chadwick Boseman. Beloved figures and stars that have rocked the very core and foundations of how we interact with celebrities, with each other, and with ourselves.

Celebrity deaths aren’t the only type of universal grief that exists. This year, the deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor captured the emotions of millions. These people were more than victims of police brutality, they were human, they were black, they were people.

Every person whose name is attached to the Black Lives Matter global movement, who we march for, was a person. In the UK, over 1700 people have died in police custody since 1990. We remember them and we grieve them, just to name a few – Rashan Charles, Adrian McDonald, Derek Bennet, Stephen Lawrence, Belly Mujinga, Sheku Bayoh, Julian McDonald, Azelle Rodney, Sarah Reed, Daniel Adewole.

This doesn’t mean we do not mourn for the injustice faced by black minorities in this country too

The UK is not innocent just because we don’t have the second amendment right to bear arms, which disregards the fact that 8% of people who die in police custody are black. This doesn’t mean we do not mourn for the injustice faced by black minorities in this country too.

We remember the young girls this year who have died due to violence: Shukri Abdi and Oluwatoyin Salau. We grieve their deaths as well as fight for their justice and celebrate their wonderful contributions to the world.

Every time we say ‘Rest In Power’, it means more than just a phrase. It is a demand and a powerfully profound wish for eternal peace, to eulogise the deceased. We hope that in saying it, an individual knows the graciousness and peace they deserve as a black person, that they may not have been granted in their lives on Earth.

We have all at some point felt loss and the confusion that it brings

There is much that can be said about the co-opting of these movements by non-black individuals, and the real dangers caused by erasing blackness from movements that were created to celebrate and acknowledge it. But grief is universal; it pushes through and breaks all barriers in a very unique way.

Grief propels us to understand the magnitude and weight of life. Grief, especially the mourning of death, is a loss incomparable to any other. It is unprecedented and unbelievable. Grief compels us to understand each other, to learn that we are more than individuals: we are connections, we are all important and we are all missed. Most importantly, we are all loved.

People come and go out of life, people leave. We have all at some point felt loss and the confusion that it brings, whether it is through death or the trials and tribulations of life. A favourite pet dying, a friendship ending, graduation. We have all lost things. We all say goodbye and it is always painful to do, but it can also be beautiful.

We are virtually grieving a world we didn’t know we could ever lose

Grief often allows us to build community, to remain in contact, to remind us that life is small, but we are not. We make impressions on people we may never even meet and we instil hope in people we don’t even know. The pain of grief often gives way to confusion, but it can bring clarity too. We find in ourselves hollowed out by the emotion grief drags to the surface.

In these unprecedented times of isolation, we are all in need of remembering. We all need to mourn our losses, but we need to support each other in coming to terms with those losses, and we need to remember as much as we feel it, we are not alone. We are all experiencing grief, even if it is not directly related to us.

We are virtually grieving a world we didn’t know we could ever lose. Interactions we may not be able to have for a long time. Mourning online the world we used to ignorantly live in. We grieve the world we knew, and we experience the need to protect the world we do have; the world where we still have each other. The world is full of new experiences, nature, and people to inspire us—even through a screen.  Grief extends what we know to be true and what we feel to be false. Everything is confusing and painful while you heal, but everything does heal, eventually.

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