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The art of social media mourning

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COVID-19 has tipped the world on its axis and changed life as we know it. Among the unprecedented ways in which the pandemic has impacted on our lives is the death of friends and loved ones either as a result of coronavirus or due to pandemic related complications.

Over the last few weeks, a few notable figures passed away, all too soon; first, it was Ibidunni Ighodalo, former beauty queen, owner of the luxury events company Elizabeth R and co-pastor of Trinity House Church in Lagos, along with her husband Ituah Oghodalo, died of a heart attack, aged just 39.

Then came the heart-breaking news of Lagos-based American radio personality Dan Foster, who died on 17 June after a brief period of illness. Following the news of each death, social media was abuzz with Nigerian business people, socialites, celebrities as well as fans sharing their grief.

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Now there’s nothing wrong with sharing collective grief on social media – it happens everywhere in the world. Think back to Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson or Prince – within minutes of the news of their deaths breaking, their names were trending on social media as people from all over the world shared disbelief and showed their respects.

If back in 1999, when Princess Diana died, if there was Twitter, you can bet your bottom naira she would have been trending for days. I recall watching news footage outside of Kensington Palace, on the side of the roads as her casket travelled from London to her final resting place on Althorp Estate, dishevelled women bawling their eyes out. I remember thinking it was vulgar to grieve for someone whom you don’t even know, whom you’ve admired or ‘fangirled’ from afar in such outrageous passion when her little sons could manage such stiff upper lips as they followed her casket.

There seems, after each death, a similar vulgarity on the Nigerian social media, especially amongst socialites and celebrities. As we are only mid-way through what’s been a shocking year, I am in no doubt we may lose more precious people before their time, so humbly in advance, I’d like to point out a few ways we could all avoid performative grief. Don’t update your Instagram feed or story, or your Facebook update with a statement like, “Worst day ever.”

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You know and I know, it isn’t, it can’t even come close. The worst day ever would be the death of a parent, a sibling, a child or your spouse, possibly your best friend. Beyond that immediate safe circle, claiming a fellow celebrity’s death is the “worst day ever” is a blatant lie and moreover, it reduces their own family’s grief. Don’t hijack their “worst day ever” – theirs is to be expected; yours is an exaggeration.

Don’t be vague. Don’t update your story or your status with “I still can’t believe it.” We are not psychics. If someone has died and you can’t believe it, spell it out. Don’t partake in vague proclamations that beg for attention.

Don’t share a photo of you and the person who passed away.
This is the equivalent of what some people who haven’t yet figured out social media etiquette do in the aftermath of a terror attack. You know the ones that posted touristy photos of themselves in front of the Eiffel Tower, hashtagged #JeSuisParis after the Paris terror attacks. This is not about you; this is about the people who died. Likewise, someone’s passing should be an opportunity to remember their life and celebrate their legacy, not an opportunity for you to showcase your photos with them.

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Don’t share screenshots of your last WhatsApp conversation
This is just a more crude variation on the photo opportunity. What are the receipts for? Who cares whether you chatted to them about the weather or Nigeria’s Covid-19 precautions two days ago. No one cares. We just care about the person who’s passed away, not the conversations you had with them or the fact that you had their phone number. By all means, there is no harm if you mention you had recently spoken to them when you post about them but just don’t share the receipts.

Don’t be crude.
I know Nigerians are not often known for their skill in sugar-coating the obvious or beating about the bush. Being straightforward is often a virtue, but not when you update your social media with “Busola is dead!” or “Chinwe has died!” This is probably one of those rare times a softer approach and euphemisms can go a long way. There are family members and friends grieving, don’t add to their grief with sensationalist ‘breaking news’ type updates. Sometimes it is worth asking yourself if you would like your own passing to be broadcast in such blunt language. If you wouldn’t like it for yourself, practise caution and kindness.

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