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Death, grief, and internet comments

by Nora McInerny Purmort

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We spend so much of our waking lives avoiding death—in more ways than one. When it comes to talking about the inevitable, it isn’t always easy. So the Orange Dot is aiming to shine a light on these stories, in hopes that it may help others. The After Series features essays from people around the world who’ve experienced loss and want to share what comes after.

You would think that having your beloved husband die in your arms would give you a deeper understanding of the world, and you’d be right, it does. I swear to everything that the moment he didn’t breathe in again, I saw the universe in its entirety, and my place in it.

You may also think that this deeper understanding of the world would stick with you always, like a Harry Potter-esque Cloak of Tranquility, something you could wear to protect you from being eaten alive by nothing, to protect you from your own brain and its obsession with trivialities.


If that were true, I wouldn’t be cringing right now as I write about a particularly humbling evening on the Internet, where I spent upwards of thirty minutes engaged in a comment war with someone across the Atlantic Ocean who failed to understand why I didn’t want her to use the hashtag I use for my son on photos of her dog.

I’m just going to let that scenario sink in for a moment because I have ancestors who survived the potato famine and close relatives who survived WWII.

I’m a widowed mother of one precious child, and I spent unredeemable moments of my life arguing with a stranger over a hashtag.

Not even arguing, really. I was full on Kanye up in the comments. I had my reasons and they were going to be heard. Or, read by a complete stranger who thought I was unstable at best.

My adversary was unapologetic and failed to see how egregious her breach of Internet etiquette truly was, in part because of internet etiquette:

1. Maybe doesn’t formally exist

2. See #1

“I think there are bigger problems in the world,” she finally replied, and with that, she shut me and my stupid thumbs up.

The big problems—in your life and in the world—will never, ever be solved in the comments section.

There are, of course, bigger problems in the world. I’ve seen them. I’ve survived them.

I watched my hilarious, healthy boyfriend go from a regular 32-year-old to a brain cancer patient in just a few weeks. I married him a month after his first brain surgery, I had his baby a year later. I took him to every blood draw and served him his chemotherapy pills on an actual platter. When he was too weak to walk, I carried him. And when he was done with this world, I was there.

Life, I know, is short and precious, and death will come for us all, even if we eat 100 percent organic food and never ever smoke a cigarette.

Why, then, was I spending a Tuesday evening engaged in the lowest form of Comment Warriorism? Because! Because my brain isn’t always as smart as my heart is, and because life is hard and sometimes, it’s easier to get real bent out of shape about a little thing than it is to look at what is really going on with you. It’s easier to face a small, imaginary problem than a big, real-life one.

I am, if you haven’t picked up on it, basically neck deep in the anger phase of grief. It’s a pretty gross phase for lots of reasons, one being that you can legitimately find yourself in an Instagram comment war debating the rightful use of a hashtag and then later share that story with many other people on the Internet as a cautionary tale of mixing grief with technology.

My husband’s default setting was tranquility and joy. Mine has always been more like heavy anxiety with a light sprinkling of humor.

It’s always been easy, too easy, for me to be consumed by trivialities, to be eaten up by nothing.

What a waste, right? What a circus.

It’s my job, now, to plant my feet and wade out from this angry pool of grief, to remember, when the grief is too big and the world is too dark, how I saw the meaning of life the moment that Aaron died, and for those of you who are still looking, it is really simple: love as much as you can, as long as you can.

The big problems—in your life and in the world—will never, ever be solved in the comments section.

[Editor’s Note: get ready to cry a lot more when you read Nora’s book “It’s Okay to Laugh”. It’s wonderful.]

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The editors of the After Series are interested in receiving personal essays about death, grief, coping—any topic that arises in the moments, days, or years after a passing. The essays should honestly explore experiences, thoughts, feelings, and/or questions the writer has personally faced after loss. We are interested in stories that have a fearless perspective on death, written honestly and absorbingly.

To submit, please send your complete essay to with “AFTER SERIES” in the subject line. Our recommended length is ~1000 words. Please paste the text into the body of the email.

Due to the high volume of essays we receive, we are not able to publish all submissions—but we do guarantee a response.

Nora McInerny Purmort

Nora McInerny Purmort is a human, author and mother who lives in Minneapolis, MN on purpose even though yes, it’s sometimes unreasonably cold there. She is not the best person on Earth, but she tries every day to be the Most Improved.

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