The Power of the Digital Bond

After the sudden death of my father, I found kinship on social media.

Posted Mar 15, 2016

by Ariella Gogol

Last July, three days after a hernia operation, my father died suddenly. I was devastated. It happened on a Friday, and after a few days at my parents’ house—my mom and I holding each other up as best we could, eating dinners left on the stoop by a kind neighbor—she suggested maybe I should post something on Facebook, to let everyone know.

That Tuesday I sat down to tell the world who my dad was: an authentic, fun-loving person with a gentle soul, a brilliant mathematician, a beloved husband, father, and friend. The tears were streaming down; it was a relief, almost transcendent, to share him.

Within seconds of posting, the love came pouring in—from close friends to near-strangers, past coworkers to new, exes to estranged relatives. Childhood friends, who really knew him. His old colleagues, in disbelief. Acquaintances who had been through it, too. Even the accountant.

The doorbell rang. Flowers, delivered by an elderly man asking what happened. “My dad,” I said, and he just held my hand. Ten minutes later, it rang again. Then again. And again. Within two days, the living room was overflowing with bouquets and Zaro’s snack baskets. And every few minutes, a new message came through on my phone, from every portal imaginable: Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, text, email, voicemail. I kept my phone in my lap, reading and re-reading. Listening and re-listening. It became my lifeline, each message an assurance that I wasn’t alone, each “like” a sign of hope, a hit of strength. I felt I could crowd surf on the support. If I just lay back, the love would hold me up.

While it may seem strange, social media has been my steady comfort, an invaluable forum for talking about my dad in the days, weeks, and months that have followed. And contrary to the notion of loss being a purely private matter, shared between only the closest of family members and friends, it has allowed me to structure and channel my grief in a way that nothing else quite has. Because despite having rock-solid friends and a wonderful, courageous mother, the opportunities to talk about my dad have waned—it’s now been over a year, and life has to go on—while the opportunities to post have not. Every #TBT and milestone is another chance: to look through pictures of him, to re-remember, to celebrate and share stories of the father I so desperately miss.

And it’s led me to uncover a new kind of connection: the digital bond. A kinship of shared experience, with people I don’t necessarily know in real life—the beautiful older girl from high school, whose father passed away from cancer four years ago; the guy from college who I occasionally saw out at parties, who came close to losing his dad from a stroke two years ago and “almost fell apart.” Without fail, they respond to everything I share about my dad, reminding me that I’m not, and never will be, alone in loss.

I couldn’t have imagined that social media, which takes us out of “reality” and keeps us behind screens, would bring me such companionship on this impossibly lonely journey through grief. Or that an invisible presence could foster what have proven to be unbreakable bonds.

But it has. And with each new post, I know I can count on my digital support system—and on my dad’s loud, delighted laugh at all this attention.

Ariella Gogol is an associate creative director at AR New York, where she leads global storytelling for Revlon. Her writing has been published in New York, Refinery29, Time Out New York, and The New York Times.