The Soul-Sucking (Or Soul-Saving) Space of Social Media

By: Brooke Taylor Duckworth

When my daughter died, I dropped off of Facebook. For me, Facebook had been a breezy, easy way to interact with people without getting into any of the harsh realities of life. I definitely used it to present the highlight reel—funny moments, the occasional witty observation, and photos to record the big holidays, parties, or accomplishments. I’d used Facebook as public record of getting married, completing grad school, buying a house, and—of course—announcing my first pregnancy.

I approached Facebook the way I would have approached a cocktail party that mingled family with work friends, school friends, and friendly acquaintances: light chitchat, humble-brag about accomplishments, try to make sure all photos are flattering.

It was very superficial, and I often caught myself playing a comparison game with people I knew from high school or college.

Occasionally, someone would post about something serious. This made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to do when a high school classmate posted about the death of his sister. Was I supposed to “like” that status update? (This was way back in the day, before Facebook provided a spectrum of emojis). We weren’t that close in high school—wouldn’t it be weird if I made a comment? Plus what could I say besides “thinking of you” or “thoughts and prayers” which a bunch of people had already said?

It felt so insincere—like a performance instead of a genuine interaction. So I scrolled past it.

When a high school teacher and coach died, someone created an “RIP Coach H” page and again, I didn’t know how to approach it. What was the point of this public display? It felt awkward for me, as a person who did not want to acknowledge grief on Facebook. Facebook was for jokes and what you were eating for lunch updates. This page felt like people were trying to merge a wake and a cocktail party, and I didn’t want to navigate that.

But my narrow approach to social media—only the light/funny/happy things!—meant that when Eliza died, I had no where to go but off Facebook. I couldn’t bear to make my daughter’s death a status update.

I couldn’t respond to the last thing posted on my wall—a cheerful inquiry from a friend: “How are you feeling? Due date is coming up soon, right!?”

I deleted my account and left Facebook—and that version of myself that I had been on Facebook—far behind. I could no longer be witty, fun, shallow, superficial, braggy, competitive, confident, or self-assured. And I didn’t know how to be on Facebook and not be those things.

I didn’t know how to be a bereaved parent at all, and I definitely didn’t feel like I could figure it out in a public forum like Facebook.

It simplified my life, for sure, but it also completely cut off some communication and connection that could have been valuable for me. I had to rely on word of mouth, and I couldn’t be sure who knew Eliza died and who didn’t. It was like I didn’t trust my Facebook friends enough to feel that it could be a safe place for my grief. Just as I would have declined an invitation to a big cocktail party, I couldn’t return to a place of surface-level engagement—even though I was the only one insisting it had to be that way.

I chose to express my thoughts on a blog, which was public but not as connected to my past or my “real life” friends and acquaintances as my Facebook profile.

I made connections and found my tribe online, although many of them found each other faster because they had connected through Facebook.

I didn’t return to Facebook until my second daughter (my rainbow baby) started kindergarten. Facebook was now the simplest way to connect with her school, with other parents, and with parenting groups I wanted to be part of.

I also discovered—years after deleting my first account—that private groups were often an excellent place to get real support, for parenting or for grief, any time of day or night.

I had relied on blog comments and e-mails—and eight years ago, that worked for me—but I realized belatedly that Facebook (and other social media) can also be used to forge community and to have deep and meaningful conversations and authentic relationships. I didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to do it at the time, but if used the right way, I think these spaces can function as a lifeline, linking bereaved parents to one another and to true and lasting friendships.

If we are using social media in a healthy and meaningful way, then we are not just posting the highlight reel. We are also admitting the hard truths. We are more interested in being authentic than in appearing to have the perfect life.

And the more honest we are about our struggles or failures, the richer our experiences and relationships will be.

I do think there are still those who want a slideshow of happy moments and who feel uncomfortable when a light hearted scroll through their feed is interrupted by hard truths. But I believe there are more people out there who benefit from knowing that we are all struggling and grieving in our own ways.

For every person who might scroll by is someone else who is also suffering, even if their grief takes a different shape.

It can be tricky to navigate these spaces that inevitably invite comparisons—watching someone mourn their beloved pet online can suddenly spark rage when you’re mourning your beloved child, no matter how much you love dogs. And of course it can be devastatingly painful to see pregnancy announcements or new baby photos, to watch your peers live out the life story that was supposed to be yours. (This is what the snooze and unfollow options are for!)

When Eliza died, I felt like I had to leave Facebook behind because I wasn’t ready to put my full self out there. It’s been eight years since Eliza’s death and my attitude toward social media has changed drastically.

Honestly, I’ve lost my drive for competition or comparison—I will always lose because I’ve already lost what matters most. But what I’ve gained is sense of community and connection. I have a healthy ability to shrug off the superficial comparisons and get through to the heart of what matters. I’m ruthless about snoozing or unfollowing anyone whose posts make me jealous or sad, but I also recognize that most people really are fighting a hard battle—no matter how big the smiles in their photo history. I cultivate a social media feed that makes me feel connected and supported, and one that makes me laugh.

I am still cautious about putting my emotions and my children out there in the world of Facebook feed, but I am almost always pleasantly surprised when I take that risk.

It is true that a darling photo of my living children will get more likes and comments that a post remembering Eliza on her birthday—and I can’t pretend that doesn’t sting. But I also understand that impulse because it once was mine, so it doesn’t break my heart the way it would have when my grief was fresh. We each choose whether we use social media to go beyond the surface of perfect appearances, just as we choose whether to crop our photos so the mess on the kitchen table is just outside the frame.

There’s no one answer or right answer for everyone. Some of us need to take a break, to get some space, to turn away from the glowing screen. Some of us will rely on those online friends and connections to get us through the darkest hours. Social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat—can feel like a pretty soul-sucking exposure of humanity’s worst.

But if we navigate it carefully, we can also find our people—unlimited by geography or history, linked by our shared grief and our big love.

Like any tool, it can be hazardous, but if handled properly it can be a lifeline, too.

About Brooke Taylor Duckworth

Brooke is the mom to three girls. Her first daughter, Eliza, was stillborn in December of 2010, and she and her husband are raising Eliza’s little sisters, now ages 5 and 3. She’s also a wife, a professor, a writer, and a microwaver of dinner. She lives in the St. Louis area and blogs at

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