My Voice When I Could Not Speak – How Social Media Helped Me Survive Loss
(This is a piece I wrote for a Blog Site on the topic of social media.)
When Emilee died on January 31 2017 from Adeno carcinoma pancreatic cancer, my world fell apart, and I died right along with her. I felt like I lost my voice.
I would think having twenty-one months to prepare for what was blatantly inevitable would have prepared me for the final moment where at 3:39 a.m. she was still alive and at 3:40 a.m. she was not.
Well, it wasn’t enough. It is never enough. It was like being in a dream, a dream from which I thought I would wake, but I never did.
Emilee had set me up with a Facebook page about two years earlier. I knew absolutely nothing about Facebook until the day before she died. That was the first time I went on Facebook to read the messages people were sending to her.
I realized I had a responsibility to respond to all the outpouring from people’s hearts and that I was now the Gate Keeper of the Facebook messages for Emilee.
And, so began my foray into social media. I realized I had a voice and I now needed to use it. It served a couple of functions.
It gave my voice a place to sing out, to cry out, to bleed out, and to tell the story of the last two years of Emilee’s ordeal. I wanted people to know what it had been like and how incredibly strong and stubborn and Valiant and determined she had been.
It was almost like having a pet to talk to. I could talk and for the most part no one really answered back. Some answered back with kind comments and some sharing of their own, but many were quiet and just listened to what I had to say. It gave me company when I needed silent company the most. I did not feel so isolated and did not feel so terrible alone.
Initially it was a way for me to acknowledge others’ condolences and caring thoughts, and then it was a way for me to express my grief.
In a way it was like talking to a loving pet who would listen and be there to comfort me in silence. And sometimes it was an echo, a reverberation, some sound coming back to me from The Emptiness around me, some response to my sharing, telling me I was not dead.
It felt like a way to have some small crumb of affirmation to acknowledge that I existed, to make me feel that I was substance and not just some floating collection of atoms and molecules that had no direction and no form, and no place to call home.
What started out as a place to speak and exercise my voice, became a place to begin my life again with prose, accounts of my feelings and experiences, an emergence of poetry writing, a birth of songwriting and rediscovery of the healing power of music.
Blogging on a couple of cancer sites also gave me a supportive community to share what I had been through, and share whatever knowledge I had from that experience. I also was blessed with some comfort, understanding, and meaningful friendships from fellow bloggers.
Some of the friends I have made on the blog sites I imagine will continue to be friends, for a long time. They have earned a place in my heart for their support and affirmation of my new creative ventures over some very difficult times of fear, doubt and questioning.
I am grateful. In all these ways, like a lifeline, or a life preserver thrown to me, an outstretched hand, or a straw to suck air through while mired in quicksand, social media helped me begin to crawl. (Along with three grief support groups, two counselors, a mindfulness based stress reduction meditation group, and becoming a music volunteer at the cancer hospital where Emilee was, and I feel compelled to add, and a partridge in a pear tree.)
Social media helped me crawl out from the ashes after the all-consuming fire, as does the Phoenix, to spread my wings and fly again.
About the author
Neal is a survivor of his spouse Emilee dying from pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma) twenty one months after diagnosis. He is beginning to find new ways of being and living in the aftermath of his wife’s death. He is discovering how to use the creativity born from the grief of losing the life that he knew. He writes about facing the fears of starting over again, and uses poetry, writing, and music for avenues of expression. His website, lifeafteremilee.com, chronicles his journey.