When Mark Stokes, a scientist based at the University of Oxford, signed off for good from Twitter this past weekend, he announced that he wasn’t just leaving the social-media platform.
He said he was leaving the “whole show,” as in preparing to die.
As Stokes poignantly shared in his tweet, “I’ve been battling cancer last 2 years, but now only have a few days left now. Thank you wonderful people, I leave this crazy world with much love in my heart.”
Stokes’ message has since gone viral, receiving more than 700,000 “likes.” It has also generated thousands of responses, including one from Katie Couric, who said, “Thank you for sharing your journey and for reminding us of our common humanity. Wishing you peace and deliverance. And that you are surrounded by love.”
While such a public farewell may seem unusual, it has become increasingly common in the age of social media, experts say. Much as we share the details of our lives on platforms like Twitter, Facebook
so are we sometimes willing to share the reality of our impending passing.
If anything, such public announcements may help us in our final days.
“When one knows one is dying, it’s actually healthier and less traumatic to find methods of closure, acceptance, peace, meaning and appreciation for the life you have had,” said Dr. Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College.
Similarly, grief-recovery specialist Iman Gatti said of Stokes’ tweet, “Him sharing is a way that he can take control of the tiny piece of his exit from this world.” At the same time, Gatti said the approach is not for everyone in that some facing death may want to keep their situation as private as possible.
“There is simply no wrong way to grieve a life, most especially, your own,” she said.
Not that there aren’t practical aspects to sharing such tough news, particularly for those with large social-media followings. As Natalie Pennington, a communication studies professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said, the “reach of social media can make it easy to broadcast a message and be done with it instead of having to write and share over and over.”
James R. Hagerty, an obituary writer with The Wall Street Journal and author of the forthcoming book, “Yours Truly: An Obituary Writer’s Guide to Telling Your Story,” said it’s also about controlling your own narrative.
“I always urge people to think ahead and put down on paper, or in a recording, the message of their choosing,” Hagerty said. “After we die, friends and family usually try to speak for us, but for all their good intentions, they often make a hash of it. It’s best to take charge of your own narrative, even if it’s as brief as a Twitter post.”