The perils of balancing grief, social media and work
Posted on November 3, 2014
Grief and social media make for a volatile mix. It can also be dangerous for your career, especially if you have a sense of humour like mine. However, if it helps break taboos and show others, especially dads, that it is possible to live, work and laugh again after losing a child, it’s a risk I’m happy to take.
Occasionally I’m forced to re-think the way I blog or tweet about my son’s death and the challenges of picking yourself up and returning to work. Here are two examples. First, a potential client suddenly stopped all contact after reading one of my posts. I assume he felt I wasn’t ready and I understand why. My gripe is that he felt unable to tell me rather than just disappearing off the face of the planet, but I accept that it made him very uncomfortable. A child’s death is hard for everyone. The second was just a few weeks ago when I was asked to adapt a specific post on behalf of another client who was concerned about my colourful language. I politely declined, and lost the work.
I wish I didn’t have a reason to write about grief but it serves a purpose that has developed over time. The blog, for example, was just meant to be for friends but it went viral and was read by over 150,000 people as Edward’s life began to slip away. I received thousands of messages, mostly supportive and a few not so, but the most meaningful came from other bereaved parents, a community of which I am now a lifelong member and to whom I have a duty of care.
A few months ago I was about to shut down the original blog about Edward’s time in hospital and turn it into a family book for his big sister and twin brother to read when they are old enough to understand the full details of his death. Whilst preparing to do so, I sat down and read through some of it for the first time since writing it.
I realised how open I had been. Some of it was raw and painful. It made me uncomfortable, so heaven knows it must have made others too. The funny thing is, before Edward died I was intensely private and rarely displayed emotion. Until the age of 40 I had cried perhaps three times since childhood and had now done so almost every day for six months and documented some of the worst moments for everyone to read.
I considered editing them but that would have removed their authenticity, so closing it down felt more appropriate. But then I received an email from a bereavement support group asking if they could forward it to their members. A few days later came a handful of messages from other bereaved parents sharing their experiences with me.
One email changed everything. It was from another father who had been lost in grief and unable to express himself to his family and friends. He had found the blog and asked them to read it because it spoke for him. Every time I wrote, he would pass it on and began to open up and talk. He told me that he had made progress for the first time. It made me so proud of Edward, which is a huge source of comfort as I try to find some meaning to his short life. It also convinced me to keep blogging.
Blogging and tweeting about bereavement may not be to everyone’s taste but it has introduced me to others who have been through the same and are now valued friends. I can message them in the middle of the night whenever the grip of grief tightens and know they will respond without judgement. Likewise they know that I am there for them. It is impossible to convey how much this camaraderie means. Sometimes you just need to speak to somebody who isn’t your wife, partner, parent or friend.
Typically, the post that has caused the most problems with work just happens to be the most viewed. It’s a bit of a dilemma. Should I keep it or remove it? How many more jobs will it cost me? It’s called ‘I beg your f***ing pardon’ and is an expletive filled but light-hearted recollection of some of the well meant but comically tragic things people have said to me. It is an honest account of what it feels like when the worlds of grief and social etiquette collide and is probably the most human thing I have ever written. The messages I have received from other bereaved parents and the knowledge that it has made them laugh during some of the most challenging moments of their lives means that I will not remove or amend it.
As a freelancer, I accept the risks that blogging like this exposes me to. When I go to meetings I normally find that the other person has searched online and read some of my posts. It’s led to a few lost opportunities but has also been an excellent ice-breaker in the right company. For example, two weeks ago, I had the following opening exchange:
“I’ve just read your blog.”
“Great, which one?” (assuming it was one of my brand related posts)
“The one in which you told everyone to fuck off.”
We both laughed. He went on to tell me about some of the trials and tribulations of his own life, about his children, how lucky he was and how much he appreciated it. It humanised our discussion and allowed us to have a frank and mutually engaging talk.
I have thought long and hard about changing my approach, but the chance of helping another bereft parent, and maybe even pulling them back from the brink of something terrible, far outweighs the risk of annoying others. I can see from my website analytics that people often find my posts because they’ve searched for things like ‘my child just died’, ‘child loss’, and ‘bereavement’. I know what it’s like to lose a child and face the challenge of getting back on my feet, so the opportunity to help anyone else get to a place where they too can live, work and smile again is one I want to take. It’s about solidarity, not self-pity. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. I blog and tweet about plenty of other things and you’re free to ignore them too, which you probably do.
I am part of a club that nobody wants to belong to, with a membership fee nobody wants to pay. But it is also a very special community. It’s full of compassionate friends, many of whom I will never meet but I know I can call upon. We look out for one another and others who have the misfortune to join us and, whilst my tweets, blogs and Facebook posts continue to serve this purpose, I will keep on writing them.
(The image used for this post is by John Sutton and used gratefully by kind permission through a Creative Commons licence)