Last month, a woman shared the following with me: “My mum took a Covid test yesterday. It was positive. She died this afternoon. I can’t say that Covid was the cause of her death. She was my world. I loved her with my heart and soul. I am in pieces. My heart and my world are shattered. How do I go on without her?” Appalling, obviously, but the thing is, I don’t know this woman at all. Her howl of pain came my way in the form of a tweet, presumably having been liked or retweeted by someone I follow. Two weeks later, her suffering is still on my mind.
Yet when I first saw the tweet I winced. Why? Well, I suppose I felt this was oversharing. But being something of an oversharer myself, in these pages and elsewhere, this is hypocrisy on my part. I also might have suspected – how dare I? – that she was baring her soul on Twitter only because she didn’t have any real friends to talk to, poor woman. And it felt intrusive, even voyeuristic, to be privy to this stranger’s suffering. What business of mine is her grief? But equally, what business of mine is it to have a view on how she expresses it and to whom?
And what’s wrong with reaching out to people you don’t know? We’re always told that it’s healthy to share, and I totally get why, in her situation, she had the urge to scream it out to the world. Celebrities get to do this all the time when it’s their turn to be bereaved. They often give interviews in which they speak of their grief. They get it out there and we sympathise with them. It’s a good thing. So why should this only be the preserve of celebrities; why shouldn’t everyone be accorded the same opportunity?
This stranger’s tweet was less the social-media equivalent of a magazine interview than a version of standing on a chair in a crowded supermarket, bar, train station or wherever, and crying out to everyone in earshot. No one would advise sharing with strangers in this way in real life. If she’d done so she would have been regarded as deranged, plain and simple. Medical help may well have been sought. On social media, though, it kind of works. Twitter is rarely considered a safe place for anything, but for this woman, in her hour of need, that’s exactly what it was.
The kindness of strangers is a beautiful, powerful thing and this was the most efficient way of accessing it. From the horrific first kidney punches of grief to the responsibility we all have to keep the memories of loved ones alive – here too, Twitter has its uses. Kara Goucher, an American athlete, tweeted this on 1 July: “40 years ago today my dad died after being hit by a drunk driver in NYC on his way to work. It shattered my life. Every year I post about him as a tribute. So that you might make a different decision, so that more loss may be spared. Please don’t drink and drive.” This was accompanied by a photograph of her dad.
And so we get, in some small way, to share a little of the loss and a fragment of the memory of those we knew nothing of. This is surely a good thing. I didn’t tweet the woman who’d just lost her mum because I never tweet, although that might be a bit of a cop-out, as I’m not sure what I would have written. I’m thinking of her, though. I see that a few days later she went on to write, “I think Twitter may have saved my life.” I hope she’s doing OK.
July 13, 2022 at 09:36PM Adrian Chiles