THE way people share the lowest moments of their lives on social media is a mystery and an inspiration, too. I am feeling tearful writing this, thanks to the death of a little boy I didn’t know, the son of parents I don’t know, although the dad is famous and has often been dubbed the ‘funniest man on Twitter’.
Sometimes the outbreaks of vicarious grief on social media and in the comments sections on websites seem plain weird. Does all that ‘thinking of you’ emoting help or is it just self-indulgent grief at one remove (insert sad emoji face here)?
That has been my response at times, and still is sometimes, but it also seems reasonable to accept that acknowledging grief is to recognise that deepest of human emotions.
The actor Rob Delaney has shared many things on Twitter, endless so-bad-they’re-good jokes. His humour is in part born from the mess his life once was. A typical headline from a first-person newspaper article he wrote a few years back captures what is often his Twitter tone: “My life as an alcoholic bedwetter.”
Here is a recent Tweet about his resurrection from alcohol – “I quit drinking 11 years ago today. Wanted to let you know that’s an option if your life is a booze toilet. I am 62,000% happier. Thanks.”
Delaney is an American who lives here, co-star with Irish actor Sharon Horgan in Catastrophe, the lovely but edgy Brit sit-com. This morning he shares on Twitter the personally devastating news that his two-year-old son Henry has died after spending half his life battling a cancerous brain tumour.
His message is long and terribly sad. It is a way for him to communicate his awful news, but also a request for space. Delaney ends his message thus: “Finally, I ask that you respect my family’s privacy regarding this matter. I have nothing else to say that I haven’t said here. Thank you, beautiful Henry, for spending as much time with us as you did. We miss you so much.”
Kudos is due to Delaney to being able to share the ups and downs of his life in a direct and affecting manner; his bad news connects because of all the funny stories and shameful secrets he has spilled so entertainingly in the past.
Recently people I know have spoken on Twitter and Facebook about their despondent troughs. Former colleagues have discussed health problems caused by a botched operation, or the sudden death of a loved one. Posts have been read, messages passed on, and in both cases the support of a distant social media community seems to have helped in some way.
We tend only to think of the negatives: the bragging and the point-scoring; the endless reporting in from pubs and restaurants, airports and holiday destinations. And, yes, I have done a few ‘big holiday’ posts – mostly because everyone else does, so why not join in.
Social media is still one big, evolving experiment: Twitter and Facebook or whatever cannot replace a life, but they can be part of a life: silly, time-wasting, skittish at times, and yet moving and meaningful sometimes, too.
It is common for people to share their grief on social media. Occasionally people think of creative ways to remember: one Facebook friend puts up posts composed of pictures he took of the family home that is no longer a family home. Small, detailed images that build into something affecting, even though you were not there and didn’t know those who have died.
So, yes, it is perhaps strange to feel sad about the death of a little boy I never knew. But sometimes that is what it’s like to be human, especially as you get on a bit, for the passing of years do seem to make it easier to feel emotional about life.
None of us can say anything that helps Rob Delaney and his family, but I guess we can still care.