When my boyfriend died in a car accident at age 29, the pain didn't surprise me.
The tears, the sleepless nights, the feelings of hopelessness; they were all things you'd expect when the love of your life disappears in a single moment.
What I didn't expect, though, was how much a single social media platform would affect the way I grieved.
When word got out he'd died, dozens of tributes, photos, and videos suddenly appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. The next day, dozens more.
At first, I didn't want to look. I didn't want to see a photo of Bob smiling. Or drinking a beer. Or riding his snowmobile. Or doing any of the things the man I loved loved to do. I wanted his dimples to be erased from my memory, because then, maybe, I'd be able to breathe without feeling like the air was running out of oxygen.
But soon I realized that actually, Facebook helped more than it hurt.
It helped to look at photos and remember how full of life he was.
It helped to read stories that reflected the kind of guy he was: the kind who was always laughing, who brought the party — and who wouldn't want me to cry all day because he wasn't there to tease me, hug me, or take me on motorcycle rides I didn't want to go on.
It helped to read supportive messages — both from those who knew Bob, and those who didn't. Without Facebook, many of them wouldn't have heard about his passing. And they surely wouldn't have known how to get in touch with me.
Soon, I was logging on countless times each day to relive memories, to smile at inside jokes, to feel like I wasn't alone.
I'd never been a super "Facebook-y" person. In fact, I secretly mocked people who posted their every little annoyance and achievement on the platform. But during the weeks following Bob's death, I didn't just stop mocking those people — I became one of them.
We'd dated on and off for 12 years, so I had plenty of material. I shared photos of Bob, with long locks, looking so young at 17; photos of him, with perfectly groomed hair, looking so handsome at 29.
I posted to Facebook more than I ever had before. And when I did, the likes lifted me up. In the past, I would've been ashamed of the fact I was collecting likes like floats that could somehow buoy me.
But in that moment, I needed them. When you're grieving, it's hard to do anything. Simply taking a walk or making a grilled cheese sandwich is a monumental task. Those likes, those messages, they made me feel like others understood what I was going through. They reminded me how many people loved him — and loved me — and that I needed to keep going.
I couldn't just lie down and give up.
In the darkest moments of my life, the social media platform I used to scorn had become my safe haven.
As much as we talk about ourselves and our emotions, grief is still fairly sequestered to those experiencing it.
That's because it's lonely, and feels like it should remain that way; it's not something you want to share with others. And with many of us living detached — sundered from loved ones by distance — grieving together is more difficult than it once was.
I lived a plane ride away from anyone who knew Bob, so I couldn't go on a lunch date to discuss my feelings. And as wonderful as my friends are, I didn't want to call them every day just to sob on the phone.
By offering easy access to others navigating the same sad waters, Facebook provided for me a platform for survival.
Even more than a year and a half after his death, the silly blue social media site remains a source of strength for me. Every few weeks, it shares an old memory of Bob's and mine — often more than a decade old. On his birthday or the anniversary of his death, a flood of photos once again fills my newsfeed. And if I ever want to tell him something — a dream I had, a person I met — I can simply post on his wall.
I still check Facebook every day (who doesn't?), but I've started to, once again, live life in the open. I'm traveling. I'm writing. I'm dating. And though I'll never stop missing or loving Bob, my daily life is as normal as it can be right now.
For all the bad things people say about Facebook — it's addictive, a fertilizer for fake news, a temple for trolls — I'll never again doubt its power to connect people. To share joy, and to share sorrow. Never as a replacement for in-person touch or conversations or physical social networks, but sometimes, an online network is all you have. And, sometimes, it's exactly what you need.