Beware the Highlight Reel: Navigating Social Media After Loss

By: Leslie Steele

While loss of a loved one is a struggle impacting every generation, grappling with loss in the age of social media is a very new issue. And truly, as a blogger, who is a self-professed over-sharer, it’s something I never ever thought about. Until I had to. There are wonderful things about social media and I’m a fan. If I wasn’t, I’d log off permanently. But I like the connection. I enjoy keeping up, celebrating others’ joys and milestones, and connecting to friends and family near and far. It’s been said that a curated social media feed is a “highlight reel” and I would tend to agree with that. But what happens when your “highlight reel” is hijacked by horrific devastation?

What happens when the Facebook status bar asks, “What’s on your mind?” and you feel like replying, “Well, my first born child, a precious baby girl died, Facebook, so what’s on my mind? Feeling trapped. Devastated. Heartbroken. Frozen. Numb.” No, I did not post that but I could have–it would have been accurate.

After Hadley passed away, it occurred to me, “How are we going to tell people?” How do we share… that we had a baby! And she’s perfect!… But she’s sick….very sick…’s not looking good….. She’s in heaven now. Ugh. I would not wish the breaking of that news on my worst enemy. But in that moment, I was grateful for social media. I had called and texted my closest friends. But other people colleagues, acquaintances, college pals, they would find out through a mindless Facebook status scroll on a Sunday morning in June. It felt like ripping off a band-aid. It was out there and I was so grateful I didn’t have to break the news in another way. I could type it, hold it at a distance, and let it fall like ash onto the ground. Out of my hands.

So, in many ways, I have been grateful for social media during all of this. It allowed me to share the news quickly and not in person, it provided a place to be me—raw, and messy, and vulnerable.

I’m still healing (obviously), but I credit a lot of those early breakthroughs in the darkest days to the opportunity to write out our story. To take the heaping mass of awfulness, and sort through it with words, to make connections, to put it all out there for memories sake. But most of all, I shared, and continue to do so,  in the hope that it might make others feel less alone in their pain. I know it sounds funny now, but social media had a role to play in the healing process and I recognize that.

However, there’s the darker side of social media, too. It goes back to that good ol’ highlight reel.

You know what someone who’s lost a baby- someone who is still a bit loopy thanks to the C-section Percocet, someone who asked her family to hide all the baby gear so she won’t see it when she gets home from the hospital, someone who feels defeated, miserable, and essentially broken doesn’t need? She doesn’t need to see pictures of your cute family in color coordinated outfits on vacation. Nor does she need to see your pregnancy announcement and you’re often taken for granted assumption that being pregnant means a baby will be coming home in nine months. Those days were hard. I wanted to be happy for others, and I really, truly, unequivocally was. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t sting a little. Grief brings out a lot of gray areas and one of those for me was that there exists a place between jealousy and joy for others.

And since social media is the palette where many people paint their big life stories, that was a place with plenty of hurt for me.

But just as I acknowledge the difficult place social media was for me after Hadley passed away, I also acknowledge it as a joy- maker too. In those initial days of loss, I wanted to see sweet baby photos. I wanted to see cute families and I even wanted to see Christmas morning photos. I would “like” your kids’ Halloween costumes and leave a comment on just how grown up your toddler is looking these days. Because I wanted all that too. And seeing others’ living the life that I wanted meant that maybe it would work out for me too.

I will never forget a phrase that was originally spoken my our wonderful doctor, and later it emerged in therapy. It was: “Let yourself get excited for the future.”

Excited? Are you kidding me? My baby died. There was nothing to be excited about. My future was smashed in a thousand tiny pieces. At the time, in the summer of 2016, the notion of “get excited about the future” seemed completely insane. But a part of me, the best and truest part of me, held tight to hope and little by little my heart opened, and low and behold, excitement did begin to emerge like a colorful photo, developing bit by bit.

Social media can be a minefield to navigate for anyone, but especially for families grieving the loss of a loved one.

Here’s some advice from someone who’s braved the wild west of social media amidst loss: Beware the highlight reel. Don’t be afraid to open, raw, vulnerable (but only if it feels right for you). Let the sting hurt, recognize it, name it for what it is, and decide to dive in or log off.

Both options are valid and a very personal decision. But don’t forget that while you scroll, you are the director of your own “reel.” Mine sure doesn’t look like I imagined, and there’s more pain and darkness than I would have liked, but it’s mine and it’s special. Share your story in a way that’s comfortable because you, grieving mama, know just how fortunate you are to be alive and able to share it. Filter optional.

Leslie SteeleAbout Leslie Steele

Leslie Steele is a mom, wife, and elementary teacher living in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband, AJ, and her baby son, Hank. Follow along with Leslie’s daily musings, as well as reflections on life as an Angel Mom with a Rainbow baby at Leslie’s blog, A Sunday Kinda Love, at

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