Something authentically good finally came to me from social media ...
Grief can nag at you a little bit at a time, or rush in and overwhelm you all at once.
This is my own true story about that nagging kind of depression and grief — and how it moved through me.
I apologize in advance: it’s not about cute puppies or kittens of a family of ducklings being returned to their mama mallard. This is about the deeply profound way I was blessed by my connections on social media. I hope it blesses you too.
My mom passed away on September 14, 2001.
I was sad then, terribly sad. She never knew about 9/11, because no one had the heart to tell her during her final few days. I’m certain she believed right up to her last breath that she would somehow recover. I have an American flag that flew over the Capital around that time, which I cherish and refer to as “Mom’s flag.”
I have grieved Mom’s passing little by little since then. There’s no way I could have rushed it. The grief isn’t debilitating, but I’ve wondered over the years if the sadness will ever stop completely.
Of course, I also remember Mom with joy.
This year on the anniversary of her passing — when Facebook reminded me (!) — I shared my favorite photo of Mom … again. I usually write a simple “In memoriam,” maybe tag my kids, sister and a few other family members, and just click to post it.
But this time I was moved to write the following:
"This lovely being took her last breath on our Earth fifteen years ago this morning. Her music students elsewhere must really enjoy her spirit, happiness and belief in them. I know I did. In so many ways I still do. Every day. Thanks Mom ... I love you."
It felt different this time …
Around that same time, I received a number of those “Congratulations on your work anniversary!” messages on LinkedIn. It only takes a click to send one. I imagine you've probably done that many times for colleagues and friends when LinkedIn reminds you.
The odd thing is that instead of sending a bunch of “Thank you!” replies, this time that didn't feel right, so I just let all those messages stack up unanswered.
I was actually a bit annoyed at LinkedIn for making it so easy for so many to say so little.
On the morning of September 14, 2016, something triggered me about how to respond to those LinkedIn easy-click messages. Why not write a heartfelt note of appreciation back to each one of the people who’d congratulated me? “But that would take hours!” said the nag in my mind.
A second later, reason set in and I realized technology could help make that process a bit easier, so I added personal notes to some of the replies I wrote that day.
The basic text for all of them was this:
"I know it seems like just a click, but your congratulations to me came at a most necessary moment. Changing careers mid-life is not easy, and as you know, I've been at it for several years. So many men in my position have taken their own lives when their dreams failed to match the reality of their world.
Holding on to my own personal legend in the face of overwhelming fear, failing courage, the questioning looks of colleagues, friends, and even family from time to time — this is hard. Your encouragement, simple as it was, gave me one more reason to be grateful, to feel supported, to want to strive to realize what's in my heart.
It's not about "beating the odds." Isn't it more about what each of us does together to recognize our individual value and role in the big picture that moves us closer to our dreams? You have done that for me, and for that thoughtfulness and for your grace to extend it my way, I thank you.
May your day today be as blessed as you have made mine. Be well."
It took about an hour to respond to everyone who’d clicked a congrats my way. Afterward, I just went on with my day and didn’t think much more about it.
What hadn’t hit me yet was that this year grief had worked on something inside me. Being reminded of my work anniversary and Mom’s passing produced a very unusual response for me compared to how I have experienced those events in the past.
I don’t usually set up social media notifications on purpose. I find them too distracting.
So later that afternoon, when I checked my LinkedIn messages, what I found honestly moved me to tears.
I really hadn’t expected the digital “thank you” notes I sent to produce much of a response. But it turned out that so many acquaintances, colleagues, and friends actually took time to write back to me with authenticity, affirmation, appreciation, and personal stories of their own that I felt for the first time that something transformational and authentic could really come from social media! Real, live, genuine take-the-time-to-write-a-few-hundred-words messages. Not just click-back text.
I wasn’t prepared for the wealth of human compassion and encouragement that came pouring toward me. If the new feelings I’d had that morning about Mom unlocked something new inside me, the responses of my LinkedIn connections blew those doors right off their hinges.
I think I’d been holding on to some kind of hidden grief, feeling that Mom’s passing had somehow left the world in shorter supply of love. Clearly, that isn’t so.
And with that moment of clarity I was able at last to let go of Mom in a way I’d never been able to before.
I don’t feel more distant from Mom, although I’ve finally laid aside some of the nagging grief that’s lived inside me for so long. I just feel closer to the essence of Mom’s joy, her boundless love, and her music. Perhaps the lesson she lived by example — to give without thought of what you may get in return — found a way to into my soul to replace that nagging grief.
Thank you, social media connections, for making this anniversary beautiful.
As annoying as growing up can be, and for all the times I’ve groaned, done it anyhow, and then thought “she told me so!,” you, my digital friends, have proven to me in a tangible way what mother knew best.
Bill Protzmann is a speaker and life coach on a mission to raise awareness about the power of music as self care. Want to join the music care movement? Check out the Music Care website or sign up for lessons.