"IT'S NICE TO KNOW THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO LOVED HIM."
KELOWNA – Earlier this month Facebook announced a new option designed to help you get over a relationship breakup without blocking or unfriending your ex. But some Okanagan residents are using Facebook to help get over an even greater loss.
Three years ago, suddenly and without warning, Kelowna resident Jasmine Grant lost her brother. Since he was adopted at an early age, Jasmine went most of her life without knowing him at all. It wasn’t until a few years before his death she finally found him in Ontario.
“We never got to meet in person but we had a great relationship over Facebook,” she says. “I got used to talking to him on messenger, then all of a sudden it wasn’t there.”
Grant's brother, Leon, died but his friends and family still post messages and photos to his personal Facebook page today.
Annette Adkin, a registered professional counsellor for 27 years, says coping with a sudden death is extremely difficult and while she doesn’t specifically recommend her clients take to social media, anything that helps share grief usually has a positive effect.
“Grief is a journey,” she says. “In our culture we avoid talking about loss so to have a place where people are supportive and can share stories and not feel guilty helps people cope. Especially on difficult days.”
Grant says the sudden death of her brother made closure significantly more difficult. There was no final goodbye or chance to say things that most people assume there will be time for.
“For him to be taken from us so quickly and abruptly, through Facebook I get to talk to him when I need to,” she says. “It helps because I’m able to say the things I want to say.”
Facebook seems to recognize the role its site plays in the bereavement process. It recently started offering an option for family to memorialize an account. According to the Q&A page, "memorialized accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away. Memorializing an account also helps keep it secure by preventing anyone from logging into it."
In Grant’s case, she and his ex-wife set up the Facebook page after he died. She did it, she says, as a way for friends and family to post pictures, share stories and leave messages. Grant says she’s learned more about her brother from his friends’ posts than she would have any other way.
“I didn’t actually know a lot about him,” she says. “We have lots of people on there. They leave a message on his birthday or message him in the middle of the week to say they’re thinking of him. Every once in a while I even get a friend request. It’s nice to know there are people who loved him.”
His mother still posts pictures to her son’s wall.
“Every once in a while I see in my news feed that my mom posted an ‘I love you message’ on Leon’s page,” she says. “It’s a great place where we can all still connect.”
Five years after Okanagan West MLA Sindi Hawkins died of leukemia, friends, family and colleagues continue writing on her page. More than 50 birthday messages were posted in September. Many are touching and clearly personal, including one from Michelle Wigmore.
"Thinking of you today," she writes. "Your beautiful smile, warm heart, voracious spirit and mostly of your friendship... we had to say farewell too soon and I thank you for making me laugh so hard, even when you were facing turmoil."
Three years ago, on March 5, Penticton resident Niki Smith's father was shot to death in his Hedley home. Smith says there have been no arrests and no closure, so she as well as other family and friends still post messages to his personal page.
“Basically on his birthday and the anniversary of his death,” she says. “Everyone’s different. I feel like when I do it, it’s like when someone hurts you so you write a letter but don’t send it. It’s getting it out of my system.”
Her messages are simple and becoming less frequent as time goes on, but that doesn't mean she isn't thinking about him or visiting his page.
“It’s like, if I feel like seeing him I can go on there,” she says. “It’s very accessible.”
Adkin says sharing your grief with people who know what you’re going through is key to getting past it.
“Anything that helps it come out in the open,” Adkin says. “Sometimes when people experience trauma and losses they isolate themselves… by connecting with other people it allows them to go through it with some support. If they see other people who understand or have had losses like theirs it makes them feel less alone in the world.”
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