Grieving alone can be isolating, and for those who have to live with the pain, some turn to social media to cope.
While the internet can be used for multiple purposes when there’s a loss, some experts say it can be therapeutic and help people grieve.
“I think there can be a lot of comfort provided to people experiencing loss and grief through their virtual connections and communities,” says therapist Leena Sarkar of Ottawa.
Farrah Rosier recently wrote a blog piece on Huffpost U.K. on how she found a sense of community on Instagram after losing her son after birth.
“Instagram became a safe haven where I wasn’t judged for hating pregnant women (even though my son’s death and my subsequent miscarriage was far from their fault), for wishing I had died instead, for wanting another baby. These women became friends. Actual, real-life friends,” she wrote.
Rosier said she was using the social media site to document her pregnancy, but after her son’s passing, she switched to a private account.
“When I was ready, I went public with it, and I found a community of people who were not afraid to speak about the realities of grief. It was not the following I had had before, it was not friends or family, but a whole new world of people.”
The single mother of two used hashtags like #BabyLoss and #InfantLoss to find other grieving women. “I could text one of them with a thought that would likely make a normal person think I needed professional help or maybe that I was beyond it. When I fell pregnant for the second time and miscarried, it was them that understood exactly how that felt, and then with the third, it was them that cheered me on, genuinely pleased.”
Experts say this connection allows them to talk to someone who has been in their shoes — a conversation that is often hard to have with people you know.
Toronto-based registered social worker and psychotherapist Andrea Kwan says social media can act as a community, making it easier for people to feel less isolated.
“Even if you’re not meeting in person to share stories with other people, can be a beautiful thing,” she tells Global News. “If it is something find helpful, I would encourage it but with the caveat that a lot of these online spaces are not mediated.”
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She adds online support groups, memorial pages or profiles on sites like Instagram, can easily help people find information and tools to cope.
“I have a Facebook page as a business and I post articles on different kinds of loss, grief and experiences,” she says. “A lot of people find it helpful. They’ll read articles or learn about grief in more specific ways.”
Sarkar says that whether someone chooses to find help online or in person, there really is no formulaic way to cope with grief.
“Everyone needs to find their own right balance of time alone, time with loved ones, and time to distract themselves and focus on other things,” she says. “I do think that it is crucial for people to set aside regular time to be with their difficult emotions and to just allow themselves to feel whatever they feel and for most people, that is easier to do in the company of emphatically attuned others.”
Online vs. in-person
But Sarkar doesn’t think you can replace the comfort of in-person companionship through social media.
“Sometimes, a grieving person just needs someone to come over and be with them, cook them a hot meal or help with practical tasks that may be neglected or to offer a hug. You can’ t underestimate that kind of support. People are hardwired to be together, physically to help one another emotionally regulate. That just can’ t be replaced with virtual contact,” she argues.
Kawn says depending on the circumstance, not all online relationships have to be a bad thing, but she also encourages people to meet in person.
“Reading online can be helpful but we don’t want to forget you’re a real person outside of your skin.”
If you do create connections on social media, she suggests calling these newfound friends on the phone or meeting them in person.
“For a lot of people, part of the challenge of grief is continuing your relationship with the person who died.”
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