Death, Grief, and the Internet

Johannes Cornelis Mynhardt – 13 June 1958 – 13 May 2017. Photo: Jeanette Mynhardt

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model[1] of the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, have often been contentious, yet accurately describes the emotions I’ve been cycling through since I heard of the sudden, unexpected passing of my father.

My subconscious mind could not believe the facts.

When my phone rang at 1:10am on Saturday morning, just over a week ago, a chill rose through my body. It was my stepmother, and I knew something must be wrong. Her first, tearful words to me were that my father is dead.

The rational part of me could not deny what I had heard, yet in the hours and days that followed any moment in which I let my mind wander brought contrary thoughts to the surface. My subconscious mind could not believe the facts; I was in denial.

Depression has been haunting me.

Following the news, anger came to me in bursts. Bargaining, for sure the bedfellow of denial, was never far away. Maybe there’s some way reverse all of this, to undo what had happened? Maybe I’m confused, and it never happened? Depression has been haunting me, I don’t want to do anything or talk to anyone, and sleep is my best comfort. It is only acceptance, Kübler-Ross’ final stage, that still seems elusive.

Acceptance, I imagine, is never easy. But, can it be that today it’s even harder to reach than before? Kübler-Ross lived in another age, before the internet entangled all of us in its electronic web. How was she to know that, despite death, our online personas carry on, unfeeling, unthinking, software-driven automatons enacting a mockery of life – as if on some ghoulish autopilot?

They carry on without us.

Remnants of my father carry on, oblivious to his death. Facebook, that most evil of modern necessities, swears that he’s alive and wants my attention. To stop this digital abomination I must appease its cold and uncaring algorithms[2], jump through its hoops, and submit a death certificate that has not even been issued yet. If I don’t appease Facebook’s plodding bureaucratic machine, his digital doppelgänger will carry on its absurd mockery of life.

Are our beliefs and assumption that our online personas are in any way us, or even remotely accurate representations of us, not desperately misguided? They carry on without us, macabrely, like children dead before they’re even born. Maybe once this grief is over I might feel differently again, but for now my grief kindles a horror at what we’re allowing ourselves to become.

1
Kübler-Ross model. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model (accessed 13 May2017).
2
How do I report a deceased person or an account on Facebook that needs to be memorialized? Facebook Help. https://www.facebook.com/help/150486848354038?helpref=uf_permalink (accessed 18 Jun2017). [Source]

One Reply to “Death, Grief, and the Internet”

  1. On the 13th December at around 7.30 pm, it will be nineteen years since my father died. It was shocking, though kind of expected. Fifty-seven days in ICU being pumped full of toxic chemicals, on a ventilator and often dialysis finally caught up. No denial, it was not something that I could deny. I saw his body. I had to ‘be the man’ and get his body to the morgue. Lots of anger, lots of frustration, and even more drinking. Depression was masked by anger and helping my mother, his partner of forty years. Acceptance … never. The crassness and shit behaviour of the doctors still angers me. Remember him, honour him. When I came to stay with you two and a half years ago I went to some of the places when my parents met and courted in the 1950s – you helped immeasurably and for that I thank you.

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