There’s no way, I could ever talk about my wife’s Annie’s journey through cancer, or my loss, on Facebook. The platform was so wrong for a brokenhearted man. And rightfully so. It’s a big part of the social media industry, where people go to have a chit-chat with a friend or friends, play those silly games, meet new people, and the beat goes on. It was never envisioned to be a place for the bereaved, “or was it.”
Perhaps, as my grandson Andrew said, I’m a trail blazer, (and in a soft voice)–I don’t know. But what I do know, is that everything I thought I knew about Facebook, based on some comments of others, was wrong.
After losing Annie, my grief was long and very difficult. The first changes in my grief were noted between the 4th and 5th year. There’s a few things I can contribute to helping me heal, but really, Facebook has to be up there near the top of the list.
No. I didn’t join Facebook, make a post and fifty people magically show up and rescue me. It wasn’t like that, nor were my expectations. At the time, I was living on hope…I just hoped one person would acknowledge how I was feeling, as I posted and waited for that “little red light” to come on.
Facebook makes a good one night stand
When it comes to the loss of a loved one, or it could be a dog, a cat, your favorite pet, maybe your car was stolen, or you lost your job…Facebook friends immediately come on board and display an abundance of emotional support for their friend. And it’s a beautiful thing. But, there’s usually no staying power in these posts because there isn’t supposed to be. It’s usually a onetime post with maybe a follow up here are there that many friends don’t always see.
Imagine me, a heartbroken man, with no friend base, that probably needed to spend some time in a loony-bin, creating an account and pouring his heart out for the world to see. Oblivious to the one night stand.
It certainly defied logic, but what is logical about grief and loneliness anyway. Nothing!
Here’s how it happened
Two days after Annie died, my daughter Melissa who was sitting at the computer, turned around and said to me, “Mom asked me to get you on Facebook after she died, so you could reconnect with family and old fiends. “I’ve now got it set up for you to include some friends, with requests for more. She motioned for me to come over and have a look. I told her I really wasn’t interested and left it at that.
On Nov 5th, 2010, 3 days after Annie died, I decided to have a sneaky peak at my Facebook page just for the heck of it. No intention of writing anything, quite frankly, I had no idea how it worked.
As I stared at the screen trying to figure out what I was looking at, I saw the words, “what’s on your mind.” Those 4 words, created the first trickle of leaking emotions, that eventually turned into a flood as the flood gates collapsed under my emotional pressure.
I noted that I had 60 friends. Many I didn’t know that well, and some not at all. They were Melissa’s friends, that knew about her momma and how bad I was struggling. I suppose, they just wanted to be there for me. Wow, were they ever.
On that day, 5 Nov, 2010, I made my first post:
“i just lost the love of my life”
Those eight little words, just as they were written, started me on my new journey with social media. And Facebook soon became a huge part of my new world. A world full of ups and downs, highs and lows, swings and roundabouts, and sometimes a cool breeze on a summers night, depending on who stopped by on my page for a chat. (Some folks are simply uplifting.)
Writing a post in the evening, taking my Xanax — the only thing that helped me sleep — then going to bed with the anticipation of what would be waiting for me in the morning, was a bit nerve racking.
What I was doing was very risky, due to the potential taboo of sharing such a personal part of my life on Facebook, and the biggie — the rejection factor. As I laid on my couch, I’d be thinking out loud, what if no one responded, I thought. Oh well, what did I have to lose. Everyone had already ran away from me…Because people don’t feel comfortable being around grievers. They just don’t know what to say during that awkward, moment of silence. And the truth is, I’d already been in Anticipatory grief and suffered from loneliness from the time I was told she would not survive her cancer, thirty months earlier. Being a caregiver or griever under certain conditions can be a very lonely and cold world to live in. However, we must move forward, one day at a time.
What I was now emotionally facing with Facebook, wasn’t anything new, just different. I was already an emotional wreck. Now, more than ever, I needed kindness, love and support. Question was, would I get it.
In the beginning the posts were like instant gratification and the beginning of an addiction, so to speak. Always chasing the high, looking for another feel good moment — “the little red light.”
Sometimes, I would sit in my dining room chair for long periods of time, just waiting for someone to reply. And then it would happen. That “little red light” came on and life was good, someone liked my post. It was just one, but it was a start, and to a griever, how wonderful to see someone acknowledge your feelings. But, the moment was fleeting as, I set back in my chair.
I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I had a vision, to inspire others, while letting the world know about Annie, and her traumatic life and death struggle with cancer… And the effects it had on her loving caregiver husband.
I posted my heart in a way that left me vulnerable to potential comments like, telling me Facebook was no place for a griever. However, that never happened. Instead, I got an outpouring of love and emotional support that was truly amazing. And I don’t know why. But I know this, the staying power of sharing my journey through grief with others, has not waned.
Over the past seven years I’ve created a network of friends, over 700, mostly through grief, which is always a good indicator that most are caring, kind and compassionate people, with a loving heart. My Facebook friends have always been there for me, like a beacon of light, or perhaps a ray of hope, helping me navigate the troubled waters that all grievers encounter.
I took a chance on Facebook and I guess, humanity, to hear my story, feel my pain, and understand that life is about love and being loved. At that point in my life, that was all that really mattered.
And I will tell you, beyond any doubt, when Melissa put my information on the Facebook page she created for me, and gave me some new friends, it was the beginning of something very special. It appeared I was creating my own rainbow, and I found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Almost seven years later it takes on the form of healing, unwavering friendships, and of course, the “Little Red Light.”
(Note: The top picture is the original first post/profile picture, and was taken 2 weeks before Annie died, while I was sitting at our dining room table. That would have been the third week of Oct, 2010.)
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”