“Who, If I Cried Out, Would Hear Me?” On Twitter, Tales And Tragedy

December 21, 2009

When I received the call telling me that my father had died, I cried. I cried loud, I cried hard, I fell to the ground and clutched at my aching chest and I wailed. And then, curled up on the floor, phone in hand, I tweeted.

I tweeted because it was instinct. I tweeted because it was the only thing that I could think of to do. I tweeted because I needed to get the words that were reverberating in my head and smashing against the walls of my mind out out out and into the world so that I could step back and see them/hear them/feel them and know that they weren’t just the narrative of some nightmare conjured up by that corner of my soul that holds and nurtures its darkest fears. I needed to face the words, and know that they were true. I needed to take control of the narration of the terrible story that was unfolding. I needed to speak. I needed to write.

So I tweeted.

My father is dead. My father has died. My father is gone.

Much has been said – dissected, debated, argued, asserted – in recent days about the impulse to tweet a tragedy. Some have said that tweeting during a tragedy is akin to fiddling while Rome burns, that it is evidence of a narcissistic soul. Others have said that it’s simply the virtual equivalent of calling out to friends  – by phone or by letter or over the garden fence – for help and support. I think that it’s a little bit of both.

The impulse to narrate any event, or one’s feelings in response to some event, is to some degree a narcissistic one, if we understand narcissism loosely (and perhaps literally) as focused self-regard, as a concentration of one’s attention upon oneself. It is to position oneself as author of the story that is unfolding, it is to take the first-person narrative role, it is to make the story about oneself. It is – contra Barthes – to become the source of meaning of the text. This needn’t be a bad thing. I asserted myself as narrator of the story of my father’s death because I needed to narrate that story, because I needed to assert my place within that story – grief-stricken daughter, confused grief-stricken daughter – in order to tell it to myself, and to the world. And telling the story was crucial to me surviving the first overwhelming waves of pain and sadness: I grabbed on to the story like a buoy and hung onto it for dear life. It was wet and slick and cold and I kept losing my grip, but it was there, and I kept myself afloat by reaching for it, grabbing for it, clinging to it when I could. There I was adrift, there I was battling the waves, there I was out and alone in a dark, turbulent sea with only the buoyant mass of my words to hold onto, to mark my place in that sea, to alert others – anybody, anybody – that there I was. I harbored no illusions that anyone could pluck me from the dark and save me. But I needed the world to know that I was there. I needed to know that I was there.

So: it was narcissistic of me, in some wise, to tweet my father’s death. Tweeting my father’s death made that death all about me. But it was all about me. It was my story, the story of my grief, and my tweets were the first painful lines in that story. I needed to say them out loud so that I could keep going. I also needed my community, my friends, and tweeting was my way of crying out to that community that I was hurt, that I was hurting, that I was in pain. But that, too, was part of the storytelling impulse: I needed someone to tell my story to. I needed my cries in the dark to be heard. I needed to know, I needed to prove, that the story was real, that this wasn’t just me talking in my sleep, singing myself a nightmare, narrating some terror from which I could not rouse. Is a story really a story if there is no reader, no audience? Even if I’d written the words down in a journal to read to myself, or whispered them into someone’s ear, the purpose would have been the same: to put the story out there, to get it heard. By one person, by thousands – the intent is the same. To get it heard. To make it real. To tell the story. To tell the story so that the pain and ache and gut-tearing grief become something other. So that they take on a life of their own, outside of one’s ravaged heart, as story.

The love, the hugs, the prayers, the good wishes, all of the things that come from the community when we cry out to it: these are precious, these are invaluable, these are necessary. But they are not what we are looking for – or, not the only things that we are looking for, not the only things that I was looking for – when we proclaim our tragedies, our hurts. We proclaim because we are storytellers, because storytelling has a saving power, because telling stories – telling our stories, telling our most difficult stories – saves us, or, at least, keeps us afloat. Twitter is a storytelling medium, and so it is understandable that some of us turn to it to tell our saving stories, in whole or in part.

Not all of Twitter’s stories are saving stories, sure. Some of Twitter’s stories are banal. Most of those stories, maybe, are banal. But, too, some are great and some are beautiful and some are terrible and the great stories and the beautiful stories and the terrible stories – all the saving stories – live alongside the banal stories and all of them, all of them draw us ’round the fire to hear and to share and – sometimes – to survive.

And that’s all that we need to know.

(On the question of stories that hurt – stories like the story that prompted my words above, the story that suggested that telling the story of a tragedy in real-time was a terrible thing, a deviant thing, a thing that we should not trust – we can, as I said last week, choose to not listen. We can choose to close ranks and not let such storytellers in. That particular storyteller stood outside our circle and narrated her hate and at first, only a very few heard her, and she would have gone away if we’d ignored her – she was outside, she had no megaphone, no speakers, no means of forcing her words upon any more than the few whose (Twitter) ears were tuned to listen – she had no way in, until we, some of us, responded to her and talked about her and pointed our fingers and said, look, look over there! and by doing so opened our circle to her and let her in. And drew everyone’s attention to her. We have to take responsibility for this. We opened our ears to her, opened our circle to her, we listened and by listening gave her reason to keep talking. And then we began shouting, and by shouting drew even more attention, and by drawing more attention we helped her bring her hateful story to life.

Next time, please, let’s not.

If a troll farts in the forest, does anybody hear? Only if we wave our torches in that direction and spark combustion. PLEASE TO REMEMBER.)

(Title from Ranier Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, Elegy 1)

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    LAVENDULA December 21, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    hi catherine i have no idea what or who you are talking about but you are right if we comment nicely when someone is being unkind or nasty or cruel we do not perpetuate their nastiness choose love choose kindnes choose to not prolong their meaness out there….

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    There’s a link above that links to a fuller account of what happened ;)

    Stacey December 21, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Would you mind if I told you you were brilliant…

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Not at all ;)

    Aimee Greeblemonkey December 21, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Great post, as always. But here is my take on it – as with anything – I think it is a case of balance. I wrote last week where I was sick of “stormy weather friends” – friends who only come round for the drama, and don’t take part in the joy. I do think we, as a society have a problem with glamorizing drama. Having said that, social media is a way to communicate with compadres, people who get it, people who are willing to reach back – and reach back quickly, right when we need it most. So I get sending out a tweet that a loved one has passed on. And we have to decide for ourselves when the person really needs us, when we want to engage, where WE find the right balance of interaction.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Glamorizing drama, yes. I think that that is absolutely a risk – more than a risk. It happens. Too much. Tweeting tragedy can fuel it – but if the alternative is to be silent, that’s a great loss. We just have to be careful, as a community, to find balance in how we respond.

    karrie December 21, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    I think I personally would be more inclined to be a heaping sob of breakdown in tragedy of that magnitude, BUT either impulse, be it to shut down, or cry out, makes sense to me.

    Shock and grief both cause all kinds of reactions, and eventually, we all want to be heard.

    LAVENDULA December 21, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    oh sorry should have clicked on all the other links posted first…to be cruel to a mother who has just lost her child is so wrong and its not my business to judge her jugement or decision to twitter about such an awful tragedy…

    Ann December 21, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Well said!
    .-= Ann´s last blog ..Dashing through the Snow =-.

    momma_trish December 21, 2009 at 2:30 pm


    I learned of her. And I read what she was saying. And I lacked the presence of mind to just close my browser window and walk away. I responded a couple of times to her. And then you made a tweet that made me think – something about keeping our online community a positive place – and inspired by you, I deleted that tweet stream. Responding to a troll exacerbates the situation, empowers the troll, and draws extra attention to the negative; I’ve never known it to make things better. And I will try to remember that in the future.

    I hope the issue with that person is now done.

    On the subject of tweeting through a tragedy, we all grieve in our own way. We all reach out in our own way. Our friends are accessible in different ways. No one gets to tell another person what is appropriate or acceptable in the circumstance; we do what is right for us, and that’s how it should be. I’m glad she has a strong support network to help her through this terrible time.
    .-= momma_trish´s last blog ..Because mouse poop is funny =-.

    Julie @ The Mom Slant December 21, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    This post brings up so many thoughts that I may have to write my own. In short, I admire the bravery of those who share their stories and in doing so open themselves up to others. I’m not that brave.
    .-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..Living in Whoville =-.

    Lona - I am THAT mommy December 21, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I watched the events of last week unfold, too. And I was really horrified of what was going on — so angry I fired of a pissy little blog about it, because I couldn’t help but think that in the virtual world, because of blogs and facebook and twitter, I have friends who I communicate mostly with online. And, God forbid something horrific ever happen to me, I think I would go to those sites because, as strange as it sounds — I know that there are people out there, virtually, who do care about me. We never know how we will respond to tragedy until we find ourselves in the throes of it. Judging the way others react? No thanks. I’ve got a kid to go hug.
    .-= Lona – I am THAT mommy´s last blog ..On today, the occasion of your fourth birthday … =-.

    Alissa December 21, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    I agree with you and I would do the same. Reaching out for support from your online community of friends is nothing to be ashamed of.

    Beth December 21, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I know how I react in tragedy. I cry for a little bit, then I go into notification mode. Make sure everyone who should know, knows, and in my life that means tweeting/facebooking these days. Far better than trying to talk to dozens of people on the phone.

    I fall apart later. I don’t grieve in a “normal” manner. Everyone who loves me knows that, but they also have come to rely on that abnormality because it lets everyone else be tempestuous, stormy, and emotional, because I will have everything “under control.”
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Befuddled =-.

    Mary Lynn December 21, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I think the idea that there’s just one correct way to respond to a tragedy is ridiculous. Who am I to judge if someone going through a difficult time chooses to reach out to others to get them through it? I might do the same–I don’t know. Sometimes I hold things in and keep them private, but sometimes it helps to share how I’m feeling with others, even virtually.

    I was horrified to see some of the things that were said on Twitter last week. I want to hope that people would never have said such things to a person’s face. It appalled me that they felt it was okay to say such things on Twitter. How can people be so cruel as to kick someone when they’re down?

    There’s room for compassion in online communications.
    .-= Mary Lynn´s last blog ..Good thing he’s still under warranty =-.

    carrien (she laughs at the days) December 21, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    I tweeted my miscarriage. I needed people to know. I didn’t want to walk through it by myself.

    It had the added benefit of getting the word out to everyone all at once, relatives and friends on facebook, as well at the blogging friends on twitter. It saved me from having to retell the story over and over again. It saved me from needing to repeat to everyone as I saw them the terrible news. That in itself was worth it right there.

    The next time I saw people in person they greeted me with love and hugs and support I didn’t need to choke out those awful words over and over again.

    One friend was out of the country when it happened, and I had to tell him much later when he asked how “you two are doing.” It was awkward for both of us. I’m so glad twitter saved me from more scenes like that.
    .-= carrien (she laughs at the days)´s last blog ..3 =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    That whole thing about just needing to tell the story once, that’s huge, it really is. Not needing to repeat the news anew to everybody was a tremendous burden lifted, for me. Tremendous.

    Suebob December 22, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    That IS huge, isn’t it? There is something about telling the story over and over that flattens it and has the effect of making it sound more like a press release than a heartfelt GIANT IMPORTANT part of one’s life.
    .-= Suebob´s last blog ..Puzzling Evidence? =-.

    Lisa December 22, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    But what about email? I do totally get the idea of just wanting to send one email or one missive.

    But one of the things I don’t understand about all of this is that bloggers act like they aren’t writing in public, that they are writing for their intimates. Blogs are not for intimates. Tweets are not for intimates, no matter the settings, since they get spread everywhere.

    Yes, you are reaching out for support, but you are also reaching out beyond your ability to control.

    Maria December 21, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    .-= Maria´s last blog ..waking up =-.

    (your) Anon December 21, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Reaching out to people is not a bad thing. I am sorry for your loss.
    (your) Anon

    kgirl December 21, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I think a person does what she needs to to make it through the day. When my dad died, I went silent for a while. That’s how I deal, and it probably aggravated as many people as tweeting about it would have. The point is, we do what we have to.

    The thing that I don’t like about Twagedy is that it makes the world seem really small and scary. Things that shouldn’t seem common in my world, suddenly are. What I mean is, if I didn’t tweet, I wouldn’t know about all the babies that died, moms that got sick, couples that divorced, etc. Yes, it’s good to reach out, and yes, our community is amazing, but with tweets and retweets and, and, and…. well, sometimes I (and my overactive worry-centric brain) prefer ignorance.
    .-= kgirl´s last blog ..The Holidays Are Coming Early! =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    I totally agree. There are days when I can’t bear to look , because I’m so afraid of what I might see. When I’m feeling fragile, I just don’t want to know. And it seems there is just so much that is bad to know about. Sigh.

    Joie at Canned Laughter December 21, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I saw the trolls. I blocked the trolls. I refrained from commenting on the trolls. Many hours later a message from someone I follow and admire came into my stream in support of the trolls. I did not turn my back. I clucked my twitter tongue. I tsk-tsked.

    Sometimes silence is the same as tacit agreement. Sometimes we must say no, this will not stand. The trick is to know when to turn our backs and when to speak out.

    ame i. December 21, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    The trolls have as much a right to comment as anyone else,though, don’t they?
    I did say that it is not my place to judge her for tweeting all the live-long day, or that her tweet obsession had no cause in the death of her son(honestly, I do think if she had been more busy parenting than tweeting, things may have ended up differently for her family) but to not respond to comments because they don’t agree with yours is childish.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I’m not saying that anyone should lose the right to speak – I’m saying that when the things said are hurtful, we can and should choose to not engage. The idea is, to not respond to comments that are *cruel.* It’s not a question of disagreement – I engage with people who disagree with me regularly. But in this case, a woman had just lost her child. For anyone to immediately cast doubt upon her, to BLAME her? That was just cruel. Just cruel.

    momma_trish December 21, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Sure, trolls have a right to speak. And speak they did. In fact, they got downright nasty about it. And in so doing, they inflicted additional pain on a person who was already suffering. I have no idea why anyone felt a need to inflict such pain on a total stranger. But in any event, they did.

    As a community, we could choose to engage them in debate – defend the grieving mother, explain our point of view, etc. Or we could choose to walk away. We also had a right to choose how we would behave in the circumstance. There were a wide variety of reactions to the situation.

    As a general rule, trolls thrive on attention; they comment in hopes of gaining notoriety or simply wreaking havoc. You cannot reason with them; they enjoy conflict, and will always disagree with your viewpoint, no matter how valid. And those of us who have seen it happen in the past know that sometimes, silence is the best remedy. Robbed of the attention they hoped to gain, trolls who receive no responses simply run out of fuel. Responses tend to simply escalate the situation; they drive the troll to become increasingly abusive, which enrages the other parties further, and so on, and so on. Ultimately, the argument is just drawn out for a long time, and it usually does not end well.

    Now, if we are aware of that and choose to respond to a troll despite our awareness, we are showing a lapse of judgment. Choosing to simply ignore a troll is not childish – far from it. By ignoring the troll, we make a conscious decision not to provide fuel to a person who is attempting to do harm.

    This is not to say that we should never respond to those who disagree with us. Simply expressing a dissenting viewpoint does not make one a troll. We can always respond to rational people who disagree with us. And I believe many of us engage in such healthy debate on a regular basis. But if experience has shown us anything, it is that responding to those who are intentionally being hurtful (the trolls of the world) tends to be rather pointless. And whenever possible, it is probably best to turn the other cheek and let the matter lie when it comes to people of that particular ilk.
    .-= momma_trish´s last blog ..Because mouse poop is funny =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    I agree. Once the story became widespread, we had a duty to respond. But it only became widespread because we reacted in the beginning. The woman who was spouting hateful things had only a handful of followers – basically, no audience. Once people started @’ing her and naming her, her audience grew. And grew, and grew. *WE* did that. If someone says something stupid, and there’s basically no-one around to hear, then I don’t think that ignoring it constitutes tacit agreement. It shuts it down.

    But, yes, if someone with a large audience, or a media outlet spouts such nonsense, we *should* respond, because they already have a megaphone.

    momma_trish December 21, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Hear hear!
    .-= momma_trish´s last blog ..Because mouse poop is funny =-.

    CannedLaughter December 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Perfectly said.

    mihow December 21, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I went back and forth and then back and forth on this again and again and again and I chose to not write anything AT ALL (until now). I will admit, my first thought about this was the following: If my son died, all I do know is that I wouldn’t want to go on living. I can’t say what thoughts I might have or if I’d run to twitter and I hope to never ever know what I would do in that situation. And you see, that’s the thing, for all those questioning her actions, they are some lucky people to never know what goes through a mother’s head after something like that. That’s what I kept coming back to: that I’m lucky to NOT know how I feel about this. I am so very lucky.

    I am not the praying time, in a sense my son is my light, my God. Should he be taken from me, you might as well have killed God. So, I am not going to go there either. And I also have to be honest, I don’t think all the tweets, prayers and blessings in the world wouldn’t make me feel better. At least for a while. But maybe that is set up for the people who can’t and don’t want to imagine it more so than the person it actually happened to.

    All of this is not an area I understand. I don’t ever want to. That’s all I know for sure. So, who am I to judge?

    But, I would like to say one more thing about the whole tweeting morbid, horrible, eventfully horrific tragedies. The day after I told that a baby my husband and I both wanted had died (at 11 weeks in utero) I wandered through my fair city in a daze. I was more sorrowful than I have ever been in my life. The thoughts I was having? Were insane. I wanted so badly to go up to the nearest stranger and tell them pointblank: I am carrying a dead body inside of me. I wanted to see their reaction, in a sense give them the information so I didn’t have to hold it anymore, this terrible secret. (Kind of like what you said about your father’s death, HBM.) This thought, picturing actually doing this? Almost made me laugh out loud. I was out of my head in sorrow, and yet there was comedy.

    Our brains are funny places. No one understands them, even us.

    Lastly, After 9/11, I refuse to judge people for how they react to tragedy. I witnessed those buildings fall with my own two eyes. I watched people running for their lives, people jumping from buildings and then I sat in a city afterwards and dealt with the aftermath. The things that came out of friend’s as well as stranger’s mouths were at times shocking. Had you not had similar thoughts, you may have been offended. In fact, an outsider to NY would probably have taken great offense to some of the things my fellow New Yorkers were saying. Everyone was in shock. That shock led people to say things that they never would have said under any rational circumstance. That’s the human brain, we can’t know until we’re there. That’s a good thing. That’s what shock is.

    I think.

    I have just rambled on and on and have no idea if any of it makes sense. But I wanted to write SOMETHING on this subject and have for a long time. Please forgive me if it comes off as a big mess.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    No forgiveness necessary, no mess. It makes perfect sense to me. Perfect, perfect sense.

    mihow December 21, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Sorry, I’m not the praying TYPE, not time. Ugh, I need to reread stuff before pressing GO!

    All sorts of messes up there. Oh well.
    .-= mihow´s last blog ..Mom It Down: Mini Cheesecakes =-.

    Heather December 21, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I don’t think tweeting during a tragedy is any different than weeping openly for others to see/hear. It is a public announcement of our grief and loss. We live in a digital age. Would anybody look at someone in a waiting room at a hospital who suddenly begins to wail openly that THEY are being narcissistic? No. Tweeting is no different. It’s announcing to your community at large that you have broken. You are lost. Help.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    As I said in the post, I was referencing narcissism in a very open way as a kind of (healthy) self-regard, concern for one’s own self. Granted, that was not, however, how the critics would have viewed it.

    jeanine December 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    This is the case you are talking about:

    “ABC News reports that Shellie Ross was tweeting about the fog rolling in and her chickens going back to the coop while 911 was called by her middle son @ 5:23 to report that his 2 year old brother was floating in the pool. Ambulance arrives at 5:38 to find child in cardiac arrest. At 6:12 pm Shellie tweeted and asked for prayers for her son. She had been tweeting from 8:37 in the morning, right on through while her son fell into the pool, and continued to tweet even after his death – which I find ironic because maybe if she wasn’t tweeting, her son might still be alive.”

    I did not write that, and I will make no other comment, because I think that says it all.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Secondhand accounts can’t tell us the story. I guess the issue at stake is, who are we to question the story? Police stated that her use of her phone (tweeting) was not considered in any way a factor in what happened. So what we are left with is just the question of how she handled herself in the moments and hours afterward. And that is not our question to ask or answer, I think. We all handle grief differently. I needed to narrate mine; she needed to narrate hers.

    Judge not lest ye be judged, although God willing we’ll none of us end up in the terrible, terrible position where we become vulnerable to such judgment.

    momma_trish December 21, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    That is a paraphrase of someone else’s interpretation of an ABC news report. But it isn’t actually what was stated in the news report. I read it, and can tell you that ABC never said that she was tweeting while 911 was being called. In actuality, the 911 operator heard her in the background desperately crying out for help as she was performing CPR on her son. It is, however, interesting to note how people interpret what they are reading when they come at it with a preconceived notion.
    .-= momma_trish´s last blog ..Because mouse poop is funny =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Exactly. Exactly.

    ERIN December 22, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Yeah. I’m going to go here.

    What if she were reading a book? Watching a soap opera? How about taking a look at the latest US magazine? On the phone with her girlfriend? On the phone with her husband? Talking over the fence to a neighbor? Oh wait…how about if she was baking cookies?

    Let’s face it. People are uncomfortable because she was doing something they either don’t get, or think is lame. Or maybe because they think it ‘took away’ from her parenting.

    I call bullshit.

    Had the news report said she was watching tv would this be a story? Would we be questioning if she watched too much tv? What if the news story said at 5pm Jane Doe was reading a trashy tabloid and at 6pm she called her best girlfriends for help. Would that MAKE THE NEWS?

    The fact is she was engaging in normal every day behavior for an American woman between the ages of 24-55. Oh, and I have the stats to prove it.

    Try me.

    I’ve had it with this discussion and these trolls. They can take their free speech and shove it up their asses.
    .-= ERIN´s last blog ..Happy Holidays…guess what MOM wants for Christmas? =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 22, 2009 at 11:52 am

    EXACTLY. There are a trillion things that be the source of distraction. Television. Chatting with neighbors. Talking on the phone. Reading books. ANYTHING. That she was tweeting is only noteworthy because it’s something new and different.

    Torn December 27, 2009 at 5:24 am

    I’m not villifying anyone, but am a little shocked at the quick defense of tweeters/bloggers to the mom. Not even to question the possibility if the mom’s actions being partly at fault?

    If it had been some teenage babysitter tweeting all day, would we have been so kind and unquestioning?

    Rusti December 21, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    as always Catherine, very well written. and I completely agree.
    .-= Rusti´s last blog ..it’s been so long… =-.

    6512 and growing December 21, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Sharing is human, to be heard is divine.
    .-= 6512 and growing´s last blog ..O Christmas tree with a side of menorah =-.

    ame i. December 21, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Narcissistic? For all my opinion is worth, I don’t think so. I don’t think it was so for the lady currently in question.
    We all have our own ways of screaming Help Me,I Am In Pain.
    I don’t think anyone has the right to judge someone else about the way they go about spreading the news.
    I don’t tweet(though I think I have an account) and I don’t follow tweets(though I think I’m a follower of a few people.) I doubt my friends and family care what I am doing every minute or hour of the day (some tweeters do tweet that often) and I know for sure the same goes for me about them. A daily cc email if something important is going on in my life is enough for the ones I don’t keep in daily contact with.
    When my husband died in 2003, there was no twitter. Our girls (3 & 5 at the time) were spending the night with my parents the night he fell asleep and didn’t wake up. We had to go the telephone route. I’ll admit it would have been less painful for me to tweet the news rather than have to place calls and have other friends and family members place calls, but now I realize it was more personal to make those calls than it would have been to type for a minute and hit send.

    mihow December 21, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t even know what to say. How terribly painful for you.

    I couldn’t say nothing. That’s just terrible. :[
    .-= mihow´s last blog ..Mom It Down: Mini Cheesecakes =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    As I said in the post, my use of the word narcissist was guarded – I meant it in the sense of focusing one’s own attention upon one’s self. This – as many psychologists have pointed out – can be a very healthy thing. I think that in these cases it IS healthy.

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Such a terrible, terrible thing.

    Michelle Lamar December 21, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    You go girl and I am thinking of you a lot this holiday season.
    .-= Michelle Lamar´s last blog ..Dr. Phil: Dr. Phil for Sainthood? =-.

    Adventures In Babywearing December 21, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    I understand completely and I am so glad you reached out. Just as it can be comforting for the victim, the people that love you want to be there to help, pray, whatever you may need. Everyone grieves differently and who are we to judge how they might do it. Especially if someone like us is so used to sharing everything openly online, of course we’d turn to Twitter, email, facebook = OUR FRIENDS and who we know care about us, in our time of need.

    In my experience, everyone has been there with wide open arms and I’m so thankful for that.

    .-= Adventures In Babywearing´s last blog ..it’s beginning to look a lot. =-.

    Redneck Mommy December 21, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    I would have done the same, I think, if twitter existed and my son had just died. In fact, when ever there is an emergency and I need you and my crew to know, I turn to twitter. It’s a powerful bullhorn if one chooses to use it that way.

    I refuse to let the trolls take that bullhorn away from us.
    .-= Redneck Mommy´s last blog ..Redneck To The Rescue: A Holiday Gift Guide =-.

    anymommy December 21, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    I can very much see wanting and needing this outlet at the worst of moments. All of my love and thoughts go out to that grieving momma.
    .-= anymommy´s last blog ..Sexiest Man Alive =-.

    Trailer Park Queen December 21, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Beautiful and eloquent. So sorry for your loss.
    .-= Trailer Park Queen´s last blog ..O Christmas Tree =-.

    Julie Cole December 21, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    I particularly relate to the comments about only wanting to tell your story once. When my son was diagnosed with autism (before blogs, facebook, twitter) I got so exhausted going through the process of telling the story – my early concerns, the signs, the diagnosis. Eventually I wrote something, photocopied it and mailed it to all our family and friends. It was such a great way to communicate what we had gone through.
    It also gave them the chance to digest and respond appropriately.

    melissa December 21, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    that whole incident saddened me. but the funny thing is, i never questioned why it was she was tweeting about it. just like, when i saw your tweets when your father died, i didn’t think twice. it’s what we, as bloggers, seem to do. we want support from our friends. and where can we find a big bunch of them all at once? twitter.
    it’s sad that there is so much judgment from people who, so obviously, don’t get it or have nothing better to do than to sit and point fingers at others.
    .-= melissa´s last blog ..A Due Date, Non-Custodial Parents And Zhu Zhu Pets, All Together In One Post =-.

    ame i. December 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    I’ve walked that mile(s) in the Damn Just Lost My Husband shoes and the Aw, No, Not the Death of My Last Grandparent shoes.
    I’ve not walked in the shoes of someone who has lost a child and can’t imagine how I would survive. I would b/c I still have a child I must care for, but I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t feel sympathy for this mother.

    Melissa Wardy December 22, 2009 at 12:09 am

    As always, Catherine, your words ring so true and move me. Your comments are spot on in regards to the drama and vitriolic comments that flew around during a time when we all should have been focused on a mother and her little boy.

    I had a microcosm of a similar instance this weekend, when the call came that my husband’s grandmother had passed away. She was 94, it was her time to go. She was the last of his grandparents. I didn’t tweet about it, post on facebook, etc… because I felt at peace with it. I didn’t have the need to reach out to people. My heart was not breaking. But HAD I needed people, had I needed a human connection, a comforting voice, I would have reached out to my community. Just as you did, just as Shellie did.

    There is no shame in needing a steady shoulder when your world has been shaken. There is no shame in whatever means you choose to reach out to those you need, when you need them most.

    Mrs. Flinger December 22, 2009 at 12:40 am

    As always, this is perfectly written, Catherine. The perspective, the understanding, the quest for action for a better outcome.

    Perfectly written as always. Well said, hon.
    .-= Mrs. Flinger´s last blog ..An update: Clean Eating Flinger Style =-.

    Sierra Black December 22, 2009 at 3:40 am

    I love this, thank you. I don’t know what I would do in the face of that enormous loss, and I hope I never have to find out. But I know I would write about it, because that’s how I make meaning.

    I wrote two stories about this incident for Strollerderby, and in both debated heavily whether or not to mention by name (or provide a link to) the vile nonsense being spouted by certain people.

    Finally I decided that while I agree with you about not letting that poison into our space, it’s also important to make people aware of who the bad guys are.

    Here’s an excerpt of how I handled it:

    “M****** appears to be trying to save face by blaming the mom in this story instead of admitting she was wrong about it being a hoax. Hot tip, honey: your face is not being saved. In fact, your name is in danger of becoming synonymous with being a jerk on the Internet. As in, “I can’t believe you just said that. Who are you, M***** M*****?””

    The whole rant is here: http://blogs.babble.com/strollerderby/2009/12/18/tweeting-mom-blameless-in-tots-death-police-say/
    .-= Sierra Black´s last blog ..The Glass Mouse =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I get that, the whole thing about revealing the bad guys for who and what they are. Totally. By the time she was The Bad Guy, it was already way out of the bag, she had her megaphone, and I do think that there was a need to counter it.

    But if only she hadn’t gotten hold of that megaphone in the first place…

    kootnygirl December 22, 2009 at 8:02 am

    I don’t like Twitter – don’t understand it, don’t participate in it, so I happily miss most of the drama.

    Twitter seems inherently narcissistic. The personal need to communicate every aspect of your waking life through 140 character ‘tweets’ is something I just don’t understand, but I don’t disparage the enormous and growing community of people who use it as a social networking tool. We all reach out (heck – I’m reaching out right now, aren’t I?) in whatever way we feel is necessary. I see nothing wrong with you tweeting your raw emotion when you learned of your father’s death, nor of Bryson’s mother tweeting to communicate what happened.

    I will say this, though. I, personally, have a tendency to get too caught up on the internet, be it my blog, or yours, or Etsy, or a stupid video game. I get caught up in it to the point that sometimes I have to remind myself to turn off the machine and go be with my children. Nobody will ever know what might have happened (or not) to that boy if his mother wasn’t so active on Twitter…it’s just a cruel, cruel reminder to the rest of us to know where that line is between real life and the interwebs, and to make sure we are standing on the right side of it.

    Regardless of what we believe, though, we owe each other the common courtesy online that we would accord one another in person.
    .-= kootnygirl´s last blog ..dreaming of greener christmases =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 22, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I get caught up on the Internet, totally. But – as Erin pointed out in another comment – we also get caught up in other things. Television, talking on the phone, reading, whatever – there are a zillion things to get distracted by, and technology has just added more. There’s been some focus on the role of Twitter here simply because it’s new and unfamiliar. What if she’d been baking cookies all afternoon? Talking on the phone? Chatting with the neighbor over coffee in the kitchen?

    Real life can be as distracting as the virtual.

    kootnygirl December 22, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Agreed. But for me, the internet (in all it’s forms) seems to be more insidious…when I’m watching tv, I’m aware of time as the shows tick by in 30 minute intervals; if I’m baking, there is a finite amount of time for the recipe. When I’m online, I can sit down for 30 seconds and get stuck for 30 minutes or more…nature of the beast. And unlike talking on the phone or chatting with a neighbour, when I’m online, my full attention is focused on the screen. (I’m not saying everyone is like that, but I unfortunately can be).

    Neither here nor there, really. Trollish behaviour and back-stabbing are never okay.
    And a mother losing her 2-year-old is never okay. Never.
    .-= kootnygirl´s last blog ..dreaming of greener christmases =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 22, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Yeah, for everyone, it’s different. I’ve posted about being concerned that I get too distracted by random stuff. But you’re right, end of day, what matters is hateful accusations and hurtfulness toward those in pain – toward anyone – is never ok.

    Eliza December 22, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Aloha –
    Social media has bridged many gaps in what we consider community. It is a one dimensional media, where emotions can be misconstrued or read into from people’s personal filters of life experience.

    If blogging/tweeting was available while I was in the 5 year odyssey of my parents’ end of life, massive clean out of two homes, I may still have some friends in my life. I burned out many by leaning on them via the phone too much, with such needy intensity. Also discovered where those boundaries must be in place for sanity’s sake. If I had a large on-line following, would I have trusted their input? I was so very very lost.

    Such a strange new time we live in. New definitions of relationship, family and caring are being expressed and explored. May the trail blazers such as you, HBM, continue to write with clarity and compassion.

    Blessings always ~
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..Sun enters Capricorn aka Winter Solstice 2009 =-.

    Selma December 22, 2009 at 9:50 am

    I was so sad to learn of this story. I am also sorry to hear about your Dad. I am glad you got the support you needed at the time. A little bit of kindness is sometimes all it takes to get someone through.
    .-= Selma´s last blog ..The Christmas Skaters =-.

    Sugar Jones December 22, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I came here to sit around the campfire. Thanks for sharing your warmth.

    I cried with my friend that night. The next morning, when I saw what had exploded, I was in disbelief. I shouted, sometimes at a name I made up for her… other times at her made up name. I was so angry. My anger helped fan the flames. I suppose that’s part of why I still feel sick to my stomach. Why I still can’t write.
    .-= Sugar Jones´s last blog ..Happy Birthday, Hannah! =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 22, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I shared your anger and hurt. And it was a really struggle for me to not freak out. Because I GOT IT. Totally. And I’ve done it.

    But that emotion is also what makes this such a wonderful place. Because we care THAT MUCH.


    Mr Lady December 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    The fact of the matter is that we all grieve differently. I never would, never could, turn to Twitter in a tragedy. That doesn’t mean someone else can’t.

    The fact of the matter is that we preach Community and Friendship and Common Good, and our actions should back that up. Because the online community has yet to acquire a concrete definition doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one.

    This is our sewing circle. This is our playgroup. This is our group therapy. These are the hands we choose to hold. We really ought to hold them tighter, the collective we.

    Love to you, my friend. As always, beautiful words that, I hope, help someone heal and someone else learn, whomever those someones may be.
    .-= Mr Lady´s last blog ..Little White Maybes =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 22, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    “This is our sewing circle. This is our playgroup. This is our group therapy. These are the hands we choose to hold. We really ought to hold them tighter, the collective we.”


    Stephanie December 22, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Everyone else has said it, Catherine, but I’ll say it again. Lovely writing on this subject that has astounded an online community. Whether or not we would have taken the same route in our grief is irrelevant. Whether we understand her route is irrelevant. Two facts remain: a) she lost her son, b) she reached out to her community. What the heck else matters?

    If you believe in prayer, wouldn’t you reach out to as many friends as possible to gather their prayers? Strength in numbers? What better way to do that? I personally don’t believe in prayers but I believe in the healing power of connecting with others who have been through what I have and gaining perspective/advice/support etc. It would take years to find that kind of community in any numbers that could help without the aid of our community-creating tools. While I am certain the pain never goes away, maybe… just maybe, that community can help keep you upright while you transition back into normal life.

    Thanks again for caring, and framing the issue in a way that is eloquent and relevant.

    Kelly@Childhood December 22, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    I am in complete agreement with you. When I tweet… it’s my stage. Whether I am narrating a drama or comedy… it is about me and what I am experiencing.

    It gives me an outlet. I write. I read. I respond. It’s healing.

    Emotionally exhausted and trapped in the Chicago airport after BlogHer… I tweeted for help. And then an amazing thing happened. Thousands tweeted for me to the airlines to hotels to the airport. Some offered company. Some offered food. One in particular booked me a hotel. Twitter is power.

    When I took my daughter to the hospital for what I suspected was Diabetes… I tweeted. I gave the play by play. My twitter readers were my support system and let me tell you this… they are smart and full of ideas. I gained a new community over 200 strong directly related to Type 1 Diabetes. They have been my strength and my advocates.

    So… I am all for tweeting the moments of our life. It’s all up to the individual how intimate they want the world to become with them.
    .-= Kelly@Childhood´s last blog ..MERRY SITSmas! =-.

    Megan December 22, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I haven’t tweeted about this or blogged about this or commented (until now) about this, but I don’t get what all the fuss is about. There was nothing she could do for him. The damage was already done. So why shouldn’t she tweet asking for prayers? She was reaching out to her friends, to her community, and there was no time to pick up the phone and maks dozens of calls or send emails to everyone. Tweeting was the quickest, most efficient way. I just don’t get why some people don’t understand that.

    I do have a very strong opinion about the accident, but since I am not a “troll”, I have kept my mouth shut about it and said nothing, and I will continue to say nothing since it is NONE OF MY BUSINESS. If only we could all do that……
    .-= Megan´s last blog ..Mama Called The Doctor & The Doctor Said…… =-.

    Rebecca (Ramblings by Reba) December 22, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    I was glad to hear that one of the folks who talked publicly about the “situation” you’re speaking of did so with the o.k. of the principals. What she had to say was important. Yes, she was on “right” side of the issue. But it WAS another person talking about it. And a post from the principals had asked to be left alone.

    It’s so hard, knowing what to do and when to do it. But I don’t know that speaking on the “right” side would have been necessary if people had just kept their cool.
    .-= Rebecca (Ramblings by Reba)´s last blog ..Peppermint bark: reason #7654 I love my husband =-.

    Lisa December 22, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    I draw a HUGE distinction between you tweeting about your own personal tragedy about your father in real time, when you were the primary person involved. Your family was only hurt by it in relation to how it hurt you. To go to your computer and tweet and compose blogs, means you had to leave your family to go do that. As the central figure in your story, that makes sense.

    But would you do that if it were your husband and not your father? Can you imagine leaving your child’s side at that moment, so you could go get support for yourself? Or would you get through it, be there for them, and then later reach out?

    As I said earlier, I get the point of blogging and tweeting and reaching out for support. I don’t really understand doing that in the middle of a crisis, as it unfolds. I can’t imagine calling a friend on the ambulance ride to the hospital or whatever the equivalent would be.

    I think that is what is throwing people off so much.

    momma_trish December 23, 2009 at 12:35 am

    She was sitting in a hospital waiting room, feeling helpless, waiting to hear news of her son, dying a bit more inside with each passing moment, and searching for something – anything – that she could do for her boy. And in that moment, she pulled out her phone and texted a message to her online community asking for prayers for her son.

    Keep in mind that she wasn’t tweeting a play-by-play of the event as it unfolded. It’s not as though she tweeted “my son fell in the pool” before she pulled him out. It’s not as though she was standing with him as they worked on him, and then just left the room to go twitter. So she wasn’t really tweeting in the middle of a crisis, as it unfolded. She was quite simply sending out a prayer request at the moment when prayers were most urgently needed and when asking for prayer was all that she could do.

    Realizing that the message that was sent out was in fact a prayer request, the tweet makes complete sense. Many who have access to prayer chains would have made a phone call from that hospital waiting room to ask for prayers; that one call would have started a series of phone calls that would have gotten a group praying. But those phoned in prayer chains take time – the phone is an older medium, and it is not immediately far-reaching. As each person calls another person to ask for prayers, precious minutes go by. So while a telephone prayer chain is more conventional (because it has been more often used in the past, because phones are older than computers), that medium is generally not as effective as a computerized channel.

    Now, that one little tweet sent out from the hospital waiting room took seconds to send. And in a manner of seconds, it may have gotten 5,000+ people praying for one little boy and his family. For those who believe in the power of prayer, that volume of support is significant enough to warrant sending a quick tweet from the hospital. So I completely understand why she would have done it.

    But even if I didn’t understand her, that wouldn’t give me the right to judge her. She was dealing with something; she handled it in the way that felt right to her. At that moment, that is all that matters.

    Kristine December 24, 2009 at 12:07 am

    I’m a firm believer that we all grieve and handle tragedy differently. We all like to believe it’s a universal feeling. But, we can never really know how someone else is feeling after a tragedy.

    For example, I lost my father as a small child. I can kind of know how you felt when you lost your father, but not exactly.

    We all handle that pain in different ways.

    How on earth can someone judge that?

    I don’t understand.

    I tweet about my tragedy to help others, spread my daughter’s story, raise awareness for CHD and to help myself. Someone else who loses a child might have similar thoughts as you. Someone else might close their Twitter account for good.

    I for one, am glad this controversy is behind us.

    I wish neither of us had to experience tragedy or tweet about it, but I am glad Twitter helped both of us.
    .-= Kristine´s last blog ..Cora’s story =-.

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