Kasie Whitener: Can People in Heaven Read Facebook?

The Writerly Life welcomes Kasie Whitener, whose post delves into the impact of social media on our most personal—and sometimes most painful—moments. Kasie blogs at Life on Clemson Road, but she also teaches and is at work on several fiction projects. Learn more about her at the end of this post.

Can People in Heaven Read Facebook?

My Facebook newsfeed:

I ❤ POTUS! Leigh Johnson Reed changed her profile picture (and my cousin’s beautiful mug). Day 141 for my friend on assignment in Liberia: a picture of her dinner. A picture of Sarah Palin with a snide comment about John McCain picking her over Mitt Romney for vice president. And a ton of “TGIF!!!”

Then, “RIP, Kellye.”

And, “You’ll be missed, Kellye.”

We’ve become a culture that does everything publicly.

Our politics are online: we comment on blogs, share fair-and-balanced articles. Our humor is online: we re-post pithy phrases laid over 1950’s cartoons (“Not all women are moody. It’s just that some of us have had enough of your bullsh**”). We share YouTube videos, clips of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

Our business is online: we fan our employer, Like achievements and re-tweet specials and events to our customers. We’re LinkedIn to everyone we’ve ever met while wearing business casual dress and pretending to care.

We shop online, too: eagerly consuming hand-painted wineglasses, children’s clothing and anything and everything that’s been monogrammed (though that may just be a Southern thing).

Our families are online it’s the only way we’ve ever seen our cousin’s cute new baby. Our faith is online: we Like Bible passages and resurrection images and baptism photos.

So it is a natural progression, right? that we would mourn online? That our tribes, our communities, our families, our “friends” would experience with us the tragedy that has befallen us. After all, we went through theirs.

“I’m so sorry!”

“You’re in my prayers!”

“We love you all so much!”

Someone’s dog was euthanized. Someone’s cat went missing. Someone’s car was broken into, home burglarized, sister divorced, kid diagnosed with a terrible disease, father fighting prostate cancer, great-grandmother passed. People suffer and we suffer with them.

“Praying for you!”

Social Media Network
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At the same time this Facebook sharing is both disturbing and confirming. First, it disturbs me that these tragedies find their way into the same medium where we’ve posted Little League Baseball scores, kitten videos, and quotes from the Dalai Lama. How is “rest in peace” appropriate here when just yesterday I wrote, “Go Tigers!” in the same space?

Jewel Blitz wants to share my top score. Amazon wants to tell people I bought a new book. Target lets everyone know I Like it and Jiffy Lube wants to tell people Brando got his oil changed. All of this news goes into my Facebook status update.

So how is, “She will be missed!” appropriate in the same place my RunKeeper App just said, “Kasie finished a 3.75 mile run in 38:22.04”?

I tweet and Facebook repeats: leadership quotes, articles about editing, Clemson sports updates, book reviews and blog posts. I wouldn’t think to Tweet, “Kellye died.” So why would I put it on Facebook?

Are these wall posts meant to offer comfort? Her sister, Kerri, is reading messages from hundreds of people who knew Kellye, people Kerri may have never met. She’s reading how loved her twin was, how many lives she touched. Do those messages on Kellye’s page help Kerri heal? Shouldn’t they? Isn’t that why they are posted?

Or are they another example of our own over-inflated sense of self-importance? Those people who ignore the fact that yesterday this same status update said “I Hate Mondays” and use it today to share their sadness are stuck in their own moment. Facebook is nothing if not self-worship.

Still the sharing is somewhat comforting and I hope wherever Kellye’s faith took her she has access to Facebook. But really, I wish she knew while she was here what a tremendous impact she was having on all of us. I am inspired to tell the people I know how important they are and what good work they are doing.

The power of social media is in the sharing of this tumultuous experience called life. And part of that experience, tragically, is that one beautiful, wonderful, funny, determined girl is no longer with us. And we’re suffering. Together.

I don’t know that blogging about her is any better than Facebooking it, so there’s my disclaimer. What do you think? Are people abusing social media by broadcasting their pain? Or is it the necessary evolution of this new global world?

Kasie Whitener

Kasie Whitener is a freelance writer and professor of English at Strayer University and Midlands Technical College. She’s a member of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), the #amwriting.org community, and the Wordsmith Studio. She tweets @KasieWhitener and Facebooks. She blogs at Life on Clemson Road and is currently writing a collection of short stories to submit to literary journals during their acceptance window in the fall. She has several novel projects all of which deal with the moment the late David Foster Wallace described as when a fish recognizes what water is.

Author: Gerry Wilson

Fiction writer. Avid reader. Former teacher. Wife, mother, grandmother.

16 thoughts

  1. I enjoy social media. Even when it contains mixed baggage. It’s so easy to scroll quickly past politics and games. And since I don’t subscribe to the newspaper any more, someone’s death is important to me. Matter of fact, I want my family to post my departure on fb. They have no clue who my friends and family are afar. Moreover, I’m the one who was the caretaker to her mother and said that the situation was a “living hell.” At the time, I needed to say that – no – to scream those words to the closest ears or eyes. There was no one who truly understood what I was going through. Getting 3 to 4 hours of sleep per night; losing from a size 14 to size 6; being vigil 24/7. Yes, a “living hell.” If I called anyone on the old stand-by tele, I spent the time saying “uh, huh, oh, really,” etc. and the cartilages around my ear would turn red and become painfully soar from listening for so long. Other than my youngest son, who would dive into despondency himself, and occasional trips from my daughter, no one supported me, and neither child understood what this child was emotionally undergoing while watching the demise of a crazy woman. Facebook brought a support system. Facebook brought words of inspiration. Facebook brought friends who listened. In addition to fb, texting allows me to say something succinct and to the point; emailing allows me to elaborate. I no longer belong to social clubs or professional associations or see my family that often or visit with friends; therefore, social media has certainly been a wonderful outlet for this older woman. I’m just thankful that I can still think, read, and type. And I thank you, Kasie, for hearing a different perspective on social media.

  2. As you and I have talked about before, I feel too many people have taken social media to a level of gossip in which I am becoming more and more uncomfortable. While I enjoy catching up with friends and family on Facebook, I do not necessarily want to read about someone’s divorce, their struggles with their teenagers, the birth and pictures of their new puppies, and most of all their political leanings. I think when posting sympathy messages to families everyone should be sensitive to the family’s feelings. A post I read last year by a friend in which the person posted about “my living hell” which referred to caring for a sick parent upset me very much. That being said, I believe all of us have at one time or another have posted things which in retrospect would have been better left unwritten. I have tried to be much more careful about what I post for this very reason because I know I have been guilty of “inserting my foot in my mouth all the way up to my elbow.” All of this being said, this is a great post.

  3. Kasie, thanks for this timely, thought-provoking post! We’ve seen thoughtful responses, too, and I think it’s because we all struggle with the evolving world of social media. Like Joy, I’ve gotten in touch with folks via Facebook with whom I’d lost contact before Facebook came along. So it’s a mixed bag. You’ve made us all more mindful of what we say, though, and how we say it. Thank you!

  4. It’s worked well for me on two occasions in the last month. Without Facebook, I probably wouldn’t even know that my date to the Junior Prom died of prostate cancer or that my cousin died on the operating table during knee surgery. Since my parents died, I’ve lost touch with my hometown and my extended family. With Facebook, I was able to be part of the community and family that gathered around those most effected. I think I was a comfort and I know that I felt included. If I’d heard about these deaths several months from now, I would have felt excluded even though it’s no one’s job to keep me informed.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about those friends you’ve lost, Joy. Facebook certainly allows us to bridge the distance between hometown and current location. In that way, the “news” aspect, Facebook can be a very useful tool to provide the sense of inclusion you describe.

  5. morning Kasie and thank you for a thoughtful read. I honestly think it is a subjective question. The young people who have been brought up in this glaringly well lit social scene would be devastated if their friends did NOT come in with support when they are having a rough time. Whereas someone with other avenues of communication (the kitchen table for instance) would be embarrassed by a deluge of strangers spouting platitudes..We need to be mindful of trivial insincere comments posted by people who feel they need to be seen to have done so. OK that is a very convoluted sentence but one thing we are really bad at when using social media is EDITING!! many thanks, cecilia

  6. Great read, Kasie. I have my own reservations when it comes to grieving, especially publically. You offer a unique perspective here. On the one hand, offering condolences in any way could offer some amount of comfort. On the other, death isn’t an easily comforted pain. I don’t think it can be… don’t really think it should be.

    In my humblest of opinions, people will rely first and most heavily on their closest of support systems when it comes to mourning a dear friend or family member. Simple acquaintances offer the “sorry for your loss” and “praying for you” comments (a person’s FB audience, in other words). Just remember, that acquaintance of yours is someone else’s dear friend of family member…

  7. Social media has become an integral part of our support systems, quickly rallying our troops when we need them. It can be abused when it’s used to cyber-bully, but I wouldn’t call sharing our personal pain an abuse. I’d call it eliciting support, which I’m happy to give when I hear the call. (Or see the call, as the case may be.)

  8. This post certainly gives us all a lot to think about. I love your point that perhaps it’s odd for grief and condolences to share the same space as “I hate Mondays”.

    I don’t know what the right answer is for this situation, but I do know that I find it challenging to draw the boundary between what I do and do not share on social media. Blogging makes it even tougher, as personal posts tend to be very popular.

    Thanks again for this thoughtful post. It gives me more food for thought.

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