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Names and Places have been changed to ensure confidentiality.
By Dr. Mari Dias
The fact that technology is ubiquitous can present
both advantages and disadvantages in the field of Thanatology (Study of Death
Take Diana, a single mom of three teenage sons. The
boys, Jack, Jim and Jacob were each two years apart. They were a very
tight-knit family as Diana felt she needed to be both mom and dad to her boys.
She became a den mother when her boys wanted to join the scouts, served as a
teaching assistant in their grammar school, and chaperoned their school field
trips. The boys were all athletic and one could always find Diana in the stands
for every basketball, baseball and football game. The boys were each other’s
best friends, and they all shared the same friends. Diana’s home was always the
favorite destination of all the boys in the neighborhood who would land there
after school or a game. It wasn’t unusual for Diana to cook for 8-10 hungry
boys, or host weekend sleepovers where pup tents were set up in her backyard.
She didn’t have much money, but she made up for it with love.
As they grew older, she joined both their middle and
high school PTOs and was a familiar presence in the halls as a library aide. After
a Friday night basketball game, Jacob texted Diana to inform her that he and
his brothers, along with another friend, Garrett, were going to grab some food
at the local pub on Curry Street. She told Jacob to be safe, have fun, and text
before they left the restaurant. Two hours later she received the expected text
from Jacob “Heading home, just going to drop Garrett off at his house. Love
you.” All was well.
It was a bit unusual for Diana to be home alone: in
order to entertain herself while waiting for her boys she watched Netflix while
she absently scrolled through Facebook.
A moment later, she froze. She stopped scrolling at a
picture that had been posted 5 minutes prior. It was the scene of a horrific
car accident. Police, Fire and Rescue were at the scene and someone had posted
“terrible accident on Curry, watching as they use jaws of life. Looks like at
least two dead. Car hit a tree head on. “☹
Diana learned of the death of Jacob, who was driving,
and Jim who was in the front passenger seat through social media. Jack and
Garrett had been sitting in the back seat and Diana soon learned that they were
both in critical condition. When the police arrived, Diana knew the story. Home
alone, waiting for her 3 boys who did not return. According to the police, two
were at the state morgue and the other in ICU. (Both did survive).
Diana’s story is not unique; many family members learn
of horrific accidents and deaths through Facebook, posted by seemingly naïve
individuals attempting to get the word out. This is a cautionary tale – I
strongly urge you to avoid posting any grisly scenes or posts that announce a
death on any social media platforms. It is information you cannot take back and
may cause a traumatic grief reaction.
In the recent past there has also been a plethora of
examples where individuals have sent “suicide texts” rather than leaving a
note. Take Samantha. A 26-year-old newly married (2 years) woman who just gave
birth to a beautiful, healthy, baby boy. At just 3 months old, her son still
required a great deal of time and her husband Nathan often pitched in. One
early fall evening, Samantha called Nathan from downstairs for his help with a
broken kitchen faucet. Nathan shouted back “I’m running out to the store to get
some milk. Be back in 10”, and with that he walked out the front door.
Approximately 7 minutes later Samantha received a text
from Nathan. “I love you. You and our son are the two most important people in
my life. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” Samantha’s heart began to pound.
What did Nathan mean? Why is he sorry?
Nathan never made it to the store. He suicided by gun
shortly after sending the text.
The above are two tragic stories that are replicated
daily with the ubiquity of technology; however, there are some advantages.
Memorial Facebook pages are created for the deceased where people can post
messages days, months and years later. They can reminisce as if they were
perusing an old photo album.
Some of my clients save texts or voice mails from the
deceased loved one to listen or read them over and over. There is some
controversy over the efficacy of this; however, a client of mine whose
boyfriend accidently overdosed on fentanyl stated that her ability to listen to
his voicemail and text his phone with messages as to how much she misses him
has made her grieving more manageable. She feels it maintains their connection.
Technology can both detrimental or advantageous in
death and grief. Please stop and think before you post and maintain connections
when they prove therapeutic.
Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally
board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in
both grief counseling and complicated grief. She is Professor of Clinical
Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias
is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI. For
more information, go to: http://gracepointegrief.com/