Three months after my husband, Cam, died at 34 of gallbladder cancer, I booked a trip to Mount Everest. I pictured myself looking up at the mountain, prayer flags fluttering around me as I took refuge in the ice and altitude. I imagined the pictures I would take, hashtag healing. One month before, I’d hiked across a volcanic pass in New Zealand and used our savings to go whale-watching in the Pacific Ocean. Several months later I landed a literary agent with my blossoming career as a grief writer. It was my great year of productivity, and I had the Instagram posts to prove it.
My life had become more digital as a widow. Cam and I had recently relocated overseas for his new job at a movie studio when he fell sick. I had a small circle of friends but found it difficult to nurture those relationships. I was flaky, often cancelling plans for last-minute dashes to the hospital. Dealing with cancer made things so busy and erratic that I was too burned out to realize how alone I was, or forecast how alone I’d really be when everything ended for Cam and my new life as a widow began. People my age were planning weddings as I chose a funeral dress, and I didn’t know a single person in my small community who had experienced such a monumental loss. Widowhood was, for lack of a better word, my niche.
At the hospice where Cam died, I picked up a pamphlet for a grief support group. I liked the idea of being part of a grieving gang, but it was more of a social club for those who had experienced loss a lot later in life than I had. To find my kindred souls, I went online where, from the cocoon of my bed, thousands of young grievers were just a hashtag or DM away. I found a group on Instagram called the Hot Young Widows Club, and messaged a follower whose loss mirrored so much of mine. I followed her, she followed back. We live in different time zones and so were there for each other when others couldn’t be, or to message the sort of things we didn’t feel comfortable saying out loud. It was the beginning of a genuine friendship.
My Instagram feed, which was once pretty pictures of hikes and nice clothes, rapidly morphed into all things grief-related. As we were entering the pandemic era and loss was everywhere, I felt held and heard, a newfound solidarity with a grieving sisterhood. Like the accounts I followed, I started making my own Instagram an outlet for my loss and pain, and then a type of comeback. It was cathartic, at first. A selfie taken on my bathroom floor with a note on being diagnosed with PTSD. A view from a mountain with a comment about “climbing through” grief literally and figuratively. Some of those captions gave me ideas for articles which at times I couldn’t keep up with writing. Grief, it turned out, was a hot pitch. I watched my articles go live on online outlets like a hawk, taking a speedy screenshot to share on socials. Then I’d wait for the comments and DMs to come in, from those who confided in me about the agony of their own loss, or felt inspired to seize the day and find their strength, to do big things, like go to Everest.