Compassion, One Tweet at a Time

There is a locked door in my head. It is solidly padlocked and I am the only one with a key. It gets noisy behind that door. For the most part the sounds are muffled. At other times I’m certain the door is going to fly off its hinges. It shakes and rattles and pulses outward. I hear shouts and thumps and loud bangs. Then, silence. Until the woman begins crying.

Once the woman starts crying, all hell breaks loose. A police officer shouts at her to get out of the car and the sirens start howling. The awful, wailing emergency vehicles. They are what ultimately blow the door off its hinges, tearing and shredding and mangling me with the force of a pressure cooker bomb.

With all that chaos, you’d think someone was being killed. You’d be right. Behind that door, my son’s last moments play out in real time over and over again. The day is Monday, January 27th, 2014, the time is 12:30 pm. My son, David Finkelman, is in a crosswalk on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. A woman turning left smashes into him, pushing him backwards and into a light post where he is crushed to death. David was 27, an honours student at the University of Alberta and a musician whose band, Energetic Action, was well known in the local music scene.

As the years passed it got a little easier to keep the door locked. I was able to knit myself back together, even if the stitches are always getting snagged on something – my son’s birthday, photos, a memory shared by one of his friends.

And as I travel along this often dark and lonely path, I have found a most unusual source of comfort: Twitter.

Twitter has a reputation as a hangout for trolls and bots, a combative place where opinions can be chewed up and spat out with acidic vitriol, a battlefield that only the strongest survive. Yet the Twitter I know is also full of empathy and inclusion. It is comprised of people who are on the same journey as I. We are all learning to cope with the death of a loved one.

On this Twitter I have friends who know more about the devastation I live with than my real-life friends. In the real world expressing grief is often taboo. But Twitter friends welcome it because they are living it, too. Any hour of the day or night, there are posts filled with hopelessness, anger and shock. Moms and dads share pictures of their children and tell stories about them. This is when they got sick, this is when they committed suicide, this is when the police arrived at the door to tell me they were dead. Husbands and wives talk of their loneliness and longing. And people respond with words of support and understanding. It may seem superficial to some. But not for those on the receiving end. Think of it: A stranger half a world away acknowledges your pain and wraps you in what amounts to a huge cosmic hug. Often their words give you the courage to go on.

At this time of year I need that more than I can express. So I turn to Twitter. I know I will find solace and support from those who walk the same path as me. We have all been through the fire and emerged scorched on the other side. We know the importance of keeping vigil with each other on these days of unbearable sorrow.

And today, January 27th, 2020, the sixth anniversary of David’s death, I could not ask for more.