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#Photogrief: grief in the digital age

Do you ever feel as though you can’t find the right words to describe your grief?

This may feel overwhelming, especially when many therapies involve talking about it.

As a result, more and more Facebook and Instagram users have turned to their personal profiles as a platform for support when dealing with bereavement and the loss of a loved one.

“Whilst face to face contact and support should never be replaced by online communication, there is no doubt that the growing presence of social media platforms has facilitated the expression of grief for many people, especially the younger generation” says grief expert, Annie Broadbent.

A social community for people to share memories and emotions

“It provides a community for people to gather together and share memories and emotions, at a time when feeling part of a collective experience is crucial for helping process the death of a loved one.”

In 2015, Heather McManamy, a young mum who died from breast cancer asked her husband to upload a self-written goodbye letter on her Facebook page. The post triggered a lot of positive feedback over the charming and emotional words she expressed.

On another occasion, a popular Instagram account belonging to Rachel Brathen, also known as @yoga_girl, transformed from a cheerful feed to a grief blog following the death of her best friend.

Rachel said: “I decided to openly share my pain because it was the only way I knew how to cope, and I’m glad I did...I am not practising yoga, and honestly, most of the time I don’t feel like having my picture taken. I can’t share all those positive, inspiring words.”

Many other people like Rachel have turned to social media when facing the death of a loved one.

Social media can make bereavement a less isolating experience

Dr Elaine Kasket, a counselling psychologist at Regent’s University in London, says there’s nothing “abnormal or complicated” about grieving through the digital world, and that it can make bereavement “a much less isolating experience”

Grief blogs such as What’s Your Grief? have suggested that sharing photos on Instagram allows you to spend time reflecting on your emotions, and to feel closer to your loved one’s memory.

Bloggers, Eleanor Haley and Lista Williams have come up with a concept called PhotoGrief in an attempt to create a space where people who like using creative outlets to cope with loss can explore and express their grief experiences through pictures.

Anyone can submit photographs to PhotoGrief as part of their monthly themed collaboration or their general submission process. However, the photographs must illustrate loss or grief in the form of an emotion, symbol of hope or strength, something your loved one would’ve loved or an important moment or milestone.

Since the initiative’s launch, over 1000 people are sharing their photographs every month. PhotoGrief has helped these people express and explore their emotions.

Photographs can illustrate loss

“Some people find that they don’t see reminders of their loved ones because they may’ve avoided them.”

“Creative outlets such as PhotoGrief can help you begin to process why this might be, and enables you to start a dialogue about your loved one and the grief you may be feeling” says Eleanor.

PhotoGrief also has a number of photography exercises for exploring grief, one of which is capturing a transformational self portrait that reflects personal growth.

For those participating in a PhotoGrief challenge, you may want to use the hashtag ‘#WYGriefphoto’ to explore other grief photographs in the What’s Your Grief community.