Here I am, mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed when I see that someone has linked to some tragedy about a child, or about a mom, something so horrible I can’t even handle the headline. Don’t open it, I think to myself. But if I don’t click on it, I can’t stop wondering about it. My imagination comes up with a plot that may be even worse than what actually happened. So I go back and click on it. Like a train wreck that I can’t look away from, I read the whole thing. The story jolts me to my core, and it takes a day or two to get it out of my system. But just as soon as I’m feeling better about the world, someone posts another one.
I’m not going to link to any of these stories here, or even mention what they were about. No doubt if you’re a parent you’ve already read them, too. But there are two things I don’t understand about this phenomenon: Why people post these stories, and why I insist on reading them.
I think people post them for a couple of reasons. Once you read the story, it festers in your brain. You can’t stop thinking about it. It has brought out some primal fear, some animal instinct to protect your children. And the only way to exorcise this demon that has crept into your mind is to blurt it out to someone else. Once it’s out there, once you’ve spoken it, you’ve passed along the horror and the worry to someone else. They take up the banner of concern and march with it until they pass it off to someone else in turn.
Sometimes the story is just a link or a “like” (even though I’m assuming the poster doesn’t actually like it, in the actual sense of the word). Sometimes they write a preamble: “I can’t stop thinking about this story. That poor family. I can’t imagine what it’s like to endure such a horrible tragedy.” Sometimes they, out of respect for others, post the link in the comments so not everyone has to see it. But I challenge you to read a post that says “tragic story in comments” and not click on it. You just have to know what it is.
People also post these stories as cautionary tales. Did you know that xyz could harm your child? Well, it could, because here’s one who died from it! Chances are, I have probably heard of the caution before, because I am one of those super worriers who knows and sees the dangers in everything. Maybe if I wasn’t, I’d be thanking the person who posted the link to the tragic story; but actually, moms who don’t worry probably wouldn’t take the story to heart anyway, because it was something so rare that it couldn’t happen again, right?
Sometimes, as unlikely as it may seem, someone in one of my mom FB groups actually knows the tragic family in question. This brings it home for me – it wasn’t just some random person, it was someone who knew someone I know (on FB anyway). In the case of one tragic story last year, I actually knew the person myself. Not well – it was someone I went to high school with – but still, I knew him. Having such a connection makes it seem as if these tragedies are less rare, because they can strike close to home – or strike your home itself.
OK, but if I don’t know the person, why do I insist on reading these stories? What need do they satisfy? Is it like watching a horror movie, where your fears can be explored and subconsciously dealt with while remaining safely on your couch? Maybe. But if anyone should be avoiding these stories, it’s me. There is too much in my past, too many lost babies, for this not to rattle me. Because I went through so much to have LM, I feel his vulnerability so deeply. I see the fragility of his life. I already know these things and I do not have to be reminded of them by a news story about an unlikely tragedy.
My fingers itch to type the stories here, so my readers can share in my misery. If others know about them, I’ve gotten them off my chest and can free them from my mind. I so badly want to write about them. They stick in my mind otherwise. I need to release them.
But for your sake, reader, I won’t.
I’m not sure what bothers me more, the stories about dead children or about dead moms. I think the children. But the moms get me too – what would happen to LM if I was gone? I can’t think about those kids crying for their mother. How awful.
Stop thinking about it.
And to the news media, why must you insist on reporting these stories? They really have no bearing on my life. But I think news reporters know that people can’t resist a tragedy. They eat it up like candy. There is something deep and dark inside people that enjoys reading them. Because they’re happening to someone else.
But for those of us who’ve actually gone through tragedy, a carefree scroll through Facebook can sucker-punch us, instantly taking us back to that mental place of misery we’ve known personally. So for our sake, people, please stop posting them. I just don’t want to see it.
Do you get annoyed at people posting tragic stories on Facebook?