Claire Black: Life and death matters on Facebook

A girl celebrates Day of the Dead in Hidalgo, Mexico. Picture: Getty
A girl celebrates Day of the Dead in Hidalgo, Mexico. Picture: Getty
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AFTER the travails of recent days you’re probably pitching up here in the hope of some light relief.

Perfectly reasonable. If I could come up with the textual equivalent of lambs gambolling in the spring sunshine or an emergency kitten I would. It’s just that I want to talk about something a little more sobering. Death.

In part it’s because I’m still mulling over Caitlin Doughty’s book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – Lessons From The Crematorium. There’s something about her understanding of how fragile life can be that got to me. I suppose it’s because it’s true. And although none of us wants to be confronted by that all the time, Doughty has a matter-of-factness that makes that not as scary as it usually seems.

The death positive movement, of which Doughty is a part, is about kindness and compassion. It’s about taking the scare out of death by ending the silence that surrounds it. It’s about the idea that although talking about mortality can be hard, not talking about it is ultimately even harder because it leaves each of us alone.

I was thinking about this when I read the open letter Sheryl Sandberg wrote on Facebook last week, about her husband, David Goldberg. He died suddenly a few days before, while they were on holiday. A high-flying tech exec (he was the boss of Survey Monkey) like her, he was 47 and the father of her two children. Some gums were beaten about the impropriety of writing a letter and posting photographs so quickly and publicly (ahem, Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook – what did we expect her to do, scribble in a tattered journal with an HB pencil?). But Sandberg’s letter was sincere and moving. She talked about the “unexpected hell” that she’d been catapulted into, but she also wrote about what Goldberg meant to her. And she thanked all of the people who’d got in touch to share their memories and condolences. None of those people will have made her loss any easier, but that’s not the point really. It’s about being kind, showing up, offering something.

It made me think of a friend of mine whose mother died a few weeks ago. She was older than Goldberg, but the shock was no less. I don’t think it ever is. My friend posted the news of her loss on Facebook. Of course she did. People live on social media – why wouldn’t they share this kind of news as well as all the holiday snaps and baby photos, the moans about work and the debriefs after nights out?

She told me that lots of people had got in touch – people she’d not seen for decades, others she’d never even met. She was pleased they had. It didn’t make her grief any easier but she liked the contact, the knowledge that her mum had been important to people and that they were concerned for her too. And that’s not always how it is. People can disappear, chased away by the awkwardness and the upset of it all. But if social media is good for anything it’s good for this. It’s a way to be in touch and to show that in grief we’re not alone.

Loss is hard to bear. But talking about it helps and we’ve got more ways than ever to do that. I say bring it on.

No more tears over gendered toys

AMAZON has dropped the gendered search option for toys on its website. This means that instead of being guided towards toys “for girls” and toys “for boys” we’ll all just be able to search for toys which are fun. Nice. With a small person who likes a bit of telly, I am now au fait with the adverts that seem to take up as much time as the programmes he watches and although I know the Amazon news is good, it’s not the whole story. “Active” toys are still the preserve of boys and “pretty and useless” things are still targeted at girls. It’s grim, transmitting pink and blue-hued messages about what boys and girls are supposed to like. Boys like cars, while apparently girls like over-emoting while they’re singing and putting hair dye in their hair. It takes me back to Christmas 1979 when, at the age of five, I had already understood something of what girls were supposed to like, and so I asked for Tiny Tears rather than the garage I wanted. Worst Christmas present ever. Still not entirely over it. Thank you Amazon for lending your corporate might to ending this needless cruelty.

Swearing by America

I LOVE America. Not in a “pledging my allegiance” kind of a way. But in a “I love popcorn and hotdogs, yellow taxis and the Golden Gate Bridge” style. But then you hear about the citizens of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who want to ban Of Mice And Men in schools and you realise there is no popcorn sweet enough to take away the bitterness of that kind of buffoonery. Apparently it’s the more than 100 profanities that make the 1937 novella unsuitable for teenagers. Never mind all that stuff about the indignity of economic powerlessness and the plight of migrant workers, there’s swearing! «