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ivoh | January 17, 2018

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Modern Loss creates a judgment-free space for conversations about life after loss

Modern Loss creates a judgment-free space for conversations about life after loss

 

Loss, like love, is full of complexities and layers.

Many of us have heard about Modern Love, the New York Times column that celebrates the joys, quirks and tribulations of relationships today. The often hilarious and heartfelt column has become widely popular. The perhaps lesser known site, Modern Loss, offers a place for people to share candid stories about experiencing loss, grief and mourning.

In a country that celebrates survivors and turnaround success stories but treats death like the white elephant in the room, Modern Loss is a unique and important online space and community.

Gabrielle Birkner

Gabrielle Birkner

“Modern Loss is a place to share the unspeakably taboo, unbelievably hilarious, and unexpectedly beautiful terrain of navigating your life after a death,” states the Modern Loss site. The project began when two friends, Modern Loss co-founders Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner were separately faced with sudden loss and struggling to find resources that enabled them to speak frankly about loss without prescription, religion or reservations. Their site, which has become a home for personal essays about loss, covers a range of topics including death and sexual identity, finding solace in a Griefmobile, birth on the cusp of death and mourning with virtual friendships.

If Modern Loss teaches readers anything it’s that there is no single or right way to experience loss.

The site is not a repository for one dimensional woeful stories. Personal essays that make the cut are carefully curated and thoughtfully edited by Soffer and Birkner, along with contributing editors Mathew Rodriguez and Julie Satow.

ivoh recently asked Soffer a few questions via email about how media practitioners can learn from writing and reading about loss.

 

Rebecca Soffer

Rebecca Soffer

Muñoz: What can media practitioners, especially those who cover trauma, take away from a site and community like Modern Loss?

Rebecca Soffer: They can learn the deep extent to which loss is a highly individualized experience, and also the paradox of it being such a shared one as well. One that cannot be summarily addressed with an overarching comment like, “It takes a year” or “If you only did X or X then you’d feel better” (and yes, people still proclaim these things all the time).

They can also learn about the incredibly positive experiences that people end up having in spite of — and sometimes because of — that loss, no matter how traumatizing it might have been and quite possibly continue to be. That extreme darkness and light can coexist every day.

We also hope they’ll choose to address issues of loss as an opportunity to trigger more thoughtful action in our society that goes well beyond a sympathy note or a casserole.

 

Muñoz: What does resilience mean to you?

Soffer: Resilience is something I believe everyone has, and something we can practice and strengthen every single day. That sounds really cheesy, I know, but I’ve experienced it myself and have met many, many wonderful people who were surprised by the resilience they found they had.

I don’t believe resilience is the ability to “bounce back” quickly from a blow, especially when it comes to something like loss, which has a nonsensical and nonlinear timeline. Anyone who tells you that has no idea what they’re talking about. It means being kind to yourself. Allowing yourself to openly express the reality and aftermath of your experiences (and not let others make you feel like you shouldn’t). It means accepting that tough waves will come your way and if you just hold on, they will eventually pass. And, you know, on some days, resilience sometimes means going micro: getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and remembering to put deodorant on.

 

Muñoz: These days, it seems that we all wear our hearts on our sleeves, or more precisely, on our social media feeds. It has become commonplace for people to mourn publicly online. In what ways do you think collective mourning enables people to process and/or experience loss?

Soffer: Expressing our grief online is a powerful experience that cuts both ways. On the one hand, posting something about what we’re going through (say, it’s a dead loved one’s birthday, or a trigger day like Mother’s Day) allows our networks to immediately respond and give us a ton of e-love and warmth, and that feels really good. And public figures like Sheryl Sandberg — who has candidly posted about losing her husband — are in a position to quickly help a huge number of people going through something similar to feel less isolated, and to alert others to the fact that you just never know what another person is going through. On the other hand, the online world is still very much the Wild West. It’s a world in which that post about someone’s loss can be in the same stream as a new movie trailer or what someone ate for lunch, and that runs the danger of us becoming desensitized to those posts.

Sometimes we think a simple “like” may suffice, but really, what that person may need is an actual phone call or in-person hangout. I think we’re still very much figuring out how to experience an emotional life event online, and will be dealing with this for many years to come.

Overall, though, I think that the Internet has allowed us to really move the needle on a conversation that is still very much a stigma in our culture and just shouldn’t be.

Sometimes people ask us, don’t you or your readers get sick of reading all these stories of loss online all the time? Well, have you ever read Humans of New York? Through just a simple photo and one paragraph, we’re able to ever so briefly understand what it feels like to live in someone else’s shoes, and also to realize how very similar we really are in the end. Humans of New York is a bottomless pot of coffee in terms of variations on stories; its common denominator is that the interviewees all live in New York (at least in the New York version!). I think Modern Loss has a similar effect with its readership. There is no end to the permutations of personal stories we can run, because they’re simply human interest stories that run the gamut of human emotions. They’re poignant. … They’re eloquent. And they’re downright hilarious. The common denominator they all share is that they all stem from the fact that someone is living with a loss.

We got tired of waiting for people to ask us about our own experiences, so we decided to launch a storytelling platform and online (and offline!) community to allow anyone to share their own.

 

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From personal essays to a helpful resource page, Modern Loss offers a well-rounded approach to talk about death sans the stigma. In addition to expanding their community events, Soffer and Birkner are currently at work on a Modern Loss book. They signed a book deal last fall with Harper Wave, a HarperCollins imprint. Share your story and learn more about the Modern Loss community here.

 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.