My mother died shortly after 4 a.m. in the pitch black of a November morning. By roughly 8:30 a.m. that day, the 29th, I had alerted my Twitter and Instagram followers, as well as my Facebook friends. I copied and pasted a few lines across the three platforms, words hastily cobbled together in something akin to a fugue state, accompanied by stray photos of my mother that I had saved on my phone — I had posted about her frequently as her condition worsened, particularly after she arrived at that grim point at which death became imminent death.
Relatively speaking, I took to social media quite soon after Mom breathed her last, and when I consider this, it feels — at least immediately — both crass and bizarre.
Nevertheless, I cannot seem to stop trying to write about Mom on social media. At first, there was a practical component: The thought of telling everyone I knew, individually, that Mom had died imbued me with the desire to crawl into a cave, never to emerge again.
Yet, despite a disinclination to engage with the world in any material way, I felt compelled to signal my heartbreak, to wave it like a black flag. Tweeting about my mother’s death, and posting photos of her on Instagram, became my own imperfect Victorian mourning ritual, a process through which I took public stock of my grief and asked — still ask — others to bear witness.
In the swamp dark of mourning, we ought not be tasked with barbed explanations of our grief-based impulses in any context: “I’m sorry that I keep bailing on plans; I’m too depressed to go out” or “Apologies for the five-week delay in responding to your email, but I am literally living inside of a blanket cocoon, crying into my cat.”
Before my father’s decline, he was a preeminent scholar of Black religious history. As brilliant as he’d been, I wasn’t sure, at the end of his...