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Death In The Time Of Twitter, Or, How We Grieve Now

NPR's Scott Simon has been live-tweeting his mother's death, raising the question: Where does death belong in an age when we can share anything with anyone?

The saying goes that you can't escape death. But on social media—and particularly Twitter—it can be just as difficult to escape the death of others.

Twitter is often the first place we hear news of a celebrity's death. It's where the doctor Kate Granger, who has terminal cancer, plans to live-tweet from her deathbed. It's where, last October, my feed overflowed with 140-character memorials to Steve Jobs, the vast majority of which came from people who never knew him personally.

But Twitter is also a place to share our deeply personal grief for the loved ones we know best. This is demonstrated by Scott Simon, the host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, who, for several days, has been live-tweeting his mother's death from her bedside at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Simon's eloquent, deeply personal tweets on the subject have brought several Twitter followers to tears over a woman they will never meet.

Jenny McCartney, a Telegraph columnist who reflected on the doctor Granger's decision to live-tweet her deathbed experience, best phrases the dichotomy of private and public expression, as it relates to death:

"The notion of death is so mysterious and enormous that, in many cases, it seems easier just to lock it away, although it has a way of escaping and sneaking up on our peripheral vision."

The question of how we deal with death now has become increasingly complex in an era when anything can be shared with anyone. We take to social media to announce our engagements, our babies, our new jobs. But should our thoughts on the dying remain a private affair? Is it fair to bring others into our own, deeply personal experiences with death through very public mediums? Are social media updates becoming another stage of the grieving process? Share your thoughts in the comments.

[Image: Flickr user Energetic Spirit]