City Times

Dubai Diaries: Mourning in the time of social media

Last updated on April 26, 2021 at 3.6 pm

It began with a flurry of messages on a college Whatsapp group. ‘Do you remember her?’ ‘She did her under grad with us.’ College photos were scanned and memories shared and the right face attributed to a name many were hard pressed to recall.

Seeing as the person in question had only spent fleeting weeks in our classroom before moving on to a professional course, this memory lapse was understandable. I dug through the years to come up with an image in my mind of a slightly reticent girl with a charming dimpled smile, one among many who passed us by during our carefree college days.

But yet the news that she was no more hit all of us hard — the unexpected death of a person your age does that. You think of an interrupted conversation, a journey cut short, a book half read and left behind while the owner quietly passes on to another realm. Shock and disbelief were etched in the messages left on social media.

A few days later, another friend posted the tragic news of her son’s passing away on Facebook. And the grief bubbled away, sliding into corners and crevices you never knew existed.

In ancient times, mourning the dead was an art perfected by professionals who would thump their chests and with ritualised wailing and copious amount of tears bid farewell to a departed soul.

However heart-breaking the emotions may be, the act of grieving was often a public rite and cathartic. Isn’t that the desired outcome of any emotional outburst?

The death wail has been recorded since the time of the ancient Celts and is still believed to exist among indigenous people of Africa, South America, Asian and Australia.

A public outpouring of the most heartfelt grief a person could possibly be subject to. Interestingly professional mourners were often only of the female gender — could it be, I wondered, with the wisdom of age, because women could be counted on to shed tears easily as they could draw on their collective, historic sense of loss?

Chrissy Teigen may be guilty of going back to the basics when it comes to public mourning after the loss of her baby, and in Rhea Chakraborty’s case, ironically it was the lack of the same, as in her refusal to grieve in a manner that would have satiated the viral moral brigade that had gone against her.

Mourning in the time of social media, from what I perceive, is not that far removed from the ancient act of lamentation.

At the end of the day while grief is universal, people grieve in different ways and everybody deserves to bid adieu to a loved one in whatever manner they may chose to — in private within the confines of their mind and heart stifling any emotional outburst or on social media, with a simple post announcing to the world that their heart is broken, but life goes on.

You make sense of loss by reinforcing the continuity of life — whether in ancient times or in the present, it is a universal truth we are forced to embrace sooner or later.

Ambica Sachin Armed with a double masters in English Literature, Ambica Sachin embarked on a career that has seen her straddle teaching, assisting an award-winning author, and reviewing books and movies, before finding her forte in critical writing and interviewing celebrities. She is currently Editor, City Times, the lifestyle and entertainment portal of Khaleej Times.