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Monday, May 12, 2014

How, On Mother’s Day, Twitter Taught Me the True Meaning of Social Support

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. It is not a holiday I celebrate. I am not a mother myself, and as those of you who know something of my personal history are aware, my relationship with my own mother was critically wounded when she became mentally ill during my adolescence.

I’m generally not much affected by the holiday. It’s been years since I left home, and by now I’ve spent more of my life without my mom than I spent with her. Time heals. But last year I learned that she had died – in 2007. And ever since then I’ve found myself thinking of her much more often, of the mother she was when I was young, and of the mother she became when I was older. And in completing my memoir, which is being released next month, naturally I’ve had to spend a great deal of time digging deeper into my long-repressed feelings towards her, this woman I once loved with all my heart. 

And maybe that’s why, on Sunday morning as I was doing my usual Twitter thing, I found myself growing uncomfortable when faced with the steady stream of tweets celebrating moms and motherhood. That’s wonderful, of course, for people who are mothers and who have mothers – they should celebrate. But then I thought, what about those who don’t ? What about all those children – young and old alike – who have lost their mothers? How does it make them feel to be deluged with these reminders of other people’s happy families when their own has been torn apart?

I hadn’t known ahead of time what I was going to tweet that day. I had nothing sweet or tender to offer in honor of the holiday, nothing warm or fuzzy I wanted to say about my mom or anyone else’s. But as I waded my way through my tweetstream, it suddenly came to me that even if I didn’t know what I wanted to say, I knew who I wanted to speak to, this Mother’s Day. Not to the mothers, but to the motherless. 

And this is what I posted.

“For all those who can no longer celebrate #MothersDay… Remember #Mom.”

And then I got up and made breakfast. When I returned to my computer about an hour later, my tweet had been retweeted 49 times and favorited 70 times. 

I was blown away. Needless to say, nothing I have ever posted on Twitter has ever gotten anything close to that kind of response. As of this writing, there have been 133 retweets and 152 favorites – mostly by people with whom I had no prior connection. And people responded! How they responded. Here are a few of the notes I received:

"I remember my mom too! Its the 1st Mother's Day without her! Be strong, Lori!"

"I put flowers on my mother's grave too. Miss her so much today."

"Thank you. Lovely reminder of our mothers lost too early."

"Thank you Lori. This is a tough day for a lot of us, but this makes it a little easier."

I was moved. Deeply, deeply moved. My tweet – 70 characters and a photo – had actually reached people, hundreds of them; it had touched them in a brief yet meaningful way. And when you look at the responses it prompted, it’s apparent that there were different reasons why. Some wanted to share their own feelings about their own lost mothers. Some wanted to offer their support to others who might be in pain. And some were merely grateful to be acknowledged – to be given the recognition that Mother’s Day is not necessarily a day of celebration for everyone. The responses varied. But at heart they all stemmed from the same impulse, our unquenchable desire to communicate our feelings to other humans. 

It’s often said that social media is about making meaningful connections, about developing relationships with individuals you wouldn’t normally encounter in your local environment. But there’s a different kind of connection that social media also makes possible. Connecting to strangers. People with whom you have no real relationship and probably never will. People with whom you have absolutely nothing in common, except for this – a shared emotion. A shared feeling, a shared experience. A shared bit of the humanity that’s common to us all.

In its own strange way, social media unites us. We’ve all heard of revolutionary movements being organized through Twitter. We’re all aware of the grassroots activism that’s transpiring every day on the internet. We all know how social media is changing our lives, how it’s connecting people all around the world, how it brings people together, how it makes their voices heard. 

And what we’re discovering is that we are not alone. There are millions upon millions of others just like us, in all the countries of the world, who are living and loving and laughing and crying and hurting and dying. We no longer have to be alone with our feelings. We can touch, and be touched. We can share our sorrow. We can share our pain. We can find comfort and support in the hearts of strangers. We can find strength in the swell of humanity that surrounds us, in the knowledge that in some of the most essential ways, we are not many, but one.

It’s a powerful age. And a beautiful one. For the first time in history, we can reach out to our fellow humans, all of them. Knowing that they can respond to us. Knowing that they will reach back.


  1. That's a powerful post, Lori. I'm a mother of three grown children and almost didn't make it back to see them. At one point I remember thinking what a crappy day to crash--Mother's Day and I'm on a plane experiencing a mechanical malfunction. But we landed and were bussed 7 hours to our destination, including the four unaccompanied minors who we all felt like mothering. I've been telling that story...

    But then there's the silent story I keep inside--my family of origin. Sometimes I think it's harder having a live mother who won't speak to her child. Mother's Day is a painful reminder. And you're right, social media allows us to bond in ways that acknowledges the silent pain. So, thank you for posting this! It makes me feel more whole.

    1. Harrowing ordeal, Charli! I can imagine how your children must have felt, too - perhaps to them, Mother's Day will carry a special significance in future years.

      I think many of us are carrying these silent stories. The widespread feeling is that mothers are supposed to be saints, and few people want to admit that theirs wasn't, for fear of seeming like ungrateful children or worse. But of course mothers are people too - subject to the same failings as the rest of us. And unfortunately, their failings have a greater impact on other people's lives precisely because there are children involved.

  2. Lori, I didn't see your Tweet on Mother's Day, and as I'm in the UK, it was not Mother's Day here. But your blog post is very powerful. Your pain must have been and is still, very acute. I cannot imagine what your experience would be like. I do feel for you. Effectively, you lost your mother twice. How come someone didn't let you know when your mother died in 2007? How terrible!
    My mother died unexpectedly and suddenly on 31 January this year. Our Mother's Day is in March and I felt the absence of her very keenly on that day when everyone was doing the Mother's Day thing, the shops were full of cards, flowers, cakes, etc. I thought of the cake I had planned making for her. I created a planter for my mother on her birthday in April. I also started a Blog to write about my feelings on losing the mother who lived with me for the last 8 years of her life. Alas it unleashed a sibling war with one of my siblings, which I don't understand. I've now started writing a memoir, which I hope to publish when I've finished it. My thoughts are with you.

    1. I'm sorry to hear about your mother, Lara - it sounds as if she was a very important part of your life. It's wonderful that you had those eight years with her, because at least you know you did everything you could to make her happy in what turned out to be the last years of her life. Keep trying to work through those feelings. I know a 70-year-old woman who lost her 95-year-old mother last year. It wasn't unexpected - in fact, it was a long time coming - but she's still terribly broken up about it. I guess even having time to prepare for the inevitable doesn't always help. But the writing definitely heals - keep doing it, whatever your siblings say.

  3. Interesting, Lori. I did see this on Twitter, but wasn't tuned in to Mother's Day because it's at a different time of the year in the UK. I guess I also thought you'd probably get lots of support from people with uncomplicated relationships with their mothers who were missing them especially on that day. I'm much more interested in mothers who don't manage to live up to the job description, which I did write about on the UK Mother's Day last year:
    I wonder if you've also seen Diane's post which I found interesting:
    Your personal story is worth telling, although if you've seen my latest post you'll see I'm rather avoidant of memoir, and I hope it brings a response that is useful and validating for you.

    1. Thanks for sharing the link to your post from last year, Anne. Sharp, and a great reminder that not all of us had childhoods overflowing with warm hugs and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

      I did actually read your post yesterday and I thought it was interesting - I, too, sometimes have difficulty with the memoir/fiction split. In fact, substantial sections of my memoir are actually written as if they're fiction, which I suspect was my way of distancing myself from the reality of certain events. But the main trouble always seems to be when I try to write fiction inspired by a true event - then I feel compelled to make all the details accurate, which I know is silly and often doesn't work very well. It's hard to let go of reality sometimes, I guess, even in fiction.

  4. My husband lost his Mom 9 years ago and his Dad last year. Both of my parents (whom we are close to) are still alive, so Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) stirs up various emotions in our household (topped off with us being childfree by choice). I never thought to use Twitter to express a more “real” tweet. Good for you for posting something that spoke to the complexity of the day, and for all those who responded in a meaningful way. I am constantly in awe of the connections that can be made, when we open ourselves up and are real. Beautifully written post, Lori.

  5. Thank you, Diane. Actually, I think you've nailed it with your use of the term "complexity." Our experience of important occasions is never as pat as it seems in television commercials, and maybe that's the crux of the whole matter. People may be reluctant to speak about their real feelings when the world at large is telling them how they're supposed to feel. But of course, our emotions can rarely be distilled down to simply happy or sad, especially when it comes to an issue as complicated as our relationships with our parents.