The death of Beau Biden — the son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and a political force in his own right — has resulted in a flood of online condolences and messages of shared grief for the Biden family. Thousands of people ranging from public figures to random strangers on both sides of the party line have been posting messages of sympathy, and I find that this modern mode of outreach can add a whole new dimension of support for people who are struggling with the early stages of grief.
Now, there are plenty of old-fashioned gestures of condoling that can’t be replaced by Tweeting and messaging. But part of the beauty of social media is that it connects people from your past to your present, and helps spread news — good and bad — quickly and efficiently. Folks who may not have crossed your mind in years are able to learn about your loss and reach out immediately with kind words of support. Even strangers — friends of friends or coworkers of the decedent — are afforded the opportunity to express their sympathy and share their favorite memories of your loved one. An outpouring of love from acquaintances and strangers can go a long way towards alleviating the different types of fear experienced during the first stage of grief, particularly the fear of being alone.
Another plus of online condolences is that they’ll still be there after the crowd has gone home. The period immediately following a loss is when people are most distracted with arrangements, visitors, and the like. The hard work of grieving begins in earnest after the dust settles, and having messages of support to read through that don’t require individual responses can be extremely comforting.
The enormous outpouring of sympathy Vice President Biden and his family has received online is an extreme example, but knowing that people from all walks of life are eager to reach out and offer solace to someone who’s grieving is extremely heartening. Whether you’re the recipient or the contributor, a little love goes a long way.