Memorializing Children Online as a Grieving Mechanism

Citation: Whitehead, D. (2015). “The story God is weaving us into”: narrativizing grief, faith, and infant loss in US evangelical women’s blog communities. New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia, 21 (1/2), 42-56. DOI: 10.1080/13614568.2014.983559.

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Summary: The present article is a case study of a blog created by an expectant mother, Angie Smith, upon receiving the news that her daughter Audrey would not survive after birth due to several congenital malformations. Whitehead examines the large community of readers that was created once the blog grew exponentially in popularity as Audrey’s story was told between her diagnosis, birth and death. The author argues that blogging about taboo topics such as miscarriages and child death is a form that grieving parents (mostly mothers), make sense of an extremely emotional and painful period in their lives. Whitehead also argues that blogging allows parents to make an otherwise private story into a public one, bestowing meaning to the unfortunately short lives their children had.

Key Passages:

Through the interplay of powerfully evocative texts and images, blogs may serve as important memorial sites, and so can be understood as yet another expression of the central role that the media play in evoking collective expressions of emotion via what Sumiala (2013) calls mediatized rituals of death and mourning. But though the use of blogs as commemorative ritual spaces is important, bereaved mothers situate these moments within the larger context of narratives leading up to and following the death of their children, so that blogging becomes a therapeutic way of processing their emotions through writing. (p. 46). 

It is common now for social media and blogs to be used as memorial spaces in times of death and grieving of any kind, but this is specially true for parents who suffered a miscarriage or lost a child within the first year of life. These parents come to see blogging and writing as a way of understanding what happened to them and making others understand their pain as well. Perhaps because these deaths came so short after birth, blogging allows parents to place their child’s short life within the bigger context of their own lives, their families, their communities and so on. What could have been forgotten, ignored or unknown by friends and family becomes central to everyone’s shared experience through the Internet. Creating and writing in an online space becomes a cathartic experience for parents and allows relatives, friends and strangers to offer support to a previously solitary tragedy.

The community that formed around Angie’s blog, and which continued to remember Audrey through her story, reinforced the ongoing relationship between mother and daughter, embodying the notion that “death ends a life, not a relationship,” as Christensen and Sandvik (2014) put it in their study of childrens’ graves as memorial sites. […] The responses she received from her readers led her, by nature deeply anxious and self-critical, to feel confident enough to be called to women’s ministry, to accept speaking engagements at churches and conferences, and to pursue book publication. The blog had given her a sense of purpose and direction, and had shown her how similar her story was to that of so many other mothers who had lost children. It had provided a supportive community of women who were willing to laugh and cry with her. (p. 51)

Angie’s story, as well as many other grieving mothers’, could not have reached the notoriety that it did had she not decided to share it online. Her blog became more than a public diary but rather a therapeutic community that allowed her (and several other women who suffered similar tragedies) to grieve, process what happened and be validated as mothers even though their children had passed. Thus, blogging for these women became a way of confirming their identities which were faltering because of the loss of their children. Therefore, even though the circumstances in which Angie and other mothers came to use the Internet were tragic, the overall outcome of this experience is certainly positive. This can be contrasted with the findings in Bartholomew et al. (2012), which show that parents who seek parental validation on social media are more likely to be distressed than those who do not.

 

4 thoughts on “Memorializing Children Online as a Grieving Mechanism

  1. Well — this mother is “distressed,” isn’t she? (I’m responding to your last sentence above). I need to see more of your thinking here — how this blog contradicts Bartholomew (2012).
    An interesting concept — speaks to the power of blogging as therapy and community building. Does Bartholomew discuss community-building?

    • I guess I wasn’t very clear, you’re right. What I meant to say was that Bartholomew et al found that the more time moms spent on FB, the higher they scored on their parenting stress scale. Here for these bloggers, specially Angie, the more time she spent blogging and telling Audrey’s story, the more support she received from all over the country – so much so that today she is a famous Christian singer/author/blogger/speaker. BUT I guess I hadn’t thought it’s hard to establish a complete parallel with these two studies because one of them is a case study, and I’m 100% sure that, if Angie had responded a parenting stress report when she started her blog she would score pretty high too. As far as your other question, they do discuss community-building, but they call it “social nesting” and it’s in reference to parents bringing friends and relatives closer when the mom is expecting. They also talk about moms and dads spending more time on FB in order to strengthen bonds with friends and families.

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