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A Story of Life and Death, as Told on Facebook

Mother and newborn

A mother's love and sudden loss

In its relatively short existence, Facebook has transformed the way millions of people communicate about life-shaping events. Engagements (and breakups) trigger a ripple of congratulations (or condolences) with a simple change in status. Long lost friends reunite online to start a new phase of their relationship. Career change updates sometimes indicate a geographic relocation. Intimate wedding photos are shared as wall posts and babies are born almost in real time on the news feed.

Today’s Washington Post shares the heart-wrenching story of 35-year-old Shana Greatman Swers as told by her, on her Facebook page. A frequent Facebook poster, she shared the joyful news of impending motherhood on her page, with updates on her doting spouse (“My fabulous husband just brought me some Rita’s. He knows how to keep a pregnant lady happy!”) and her bouncing baby boy (“Isaac Lawrence Swers was born on Wednesday a little after 8:30 in the evening. He is 8 lbs 4 oz and 20.5 inches long. He has a full head of dark hair. He is, of course, perfect. Thanks for all the good thoughts you’ve sent our way for the past nine months. We feel truly blessed.”).

But the news becomes decidedly less cheerful when she reveals on her iPhone from the ICU just a few days after Isaac’s birth that she underwent a post-partum cardiac myopothy. Over the course of the next month she mostly remained in the hospital so doctors could tend to her heart, which wasn’t pumping enough blood. A rare disorder was diagnosed peripartum cardiomyoptahy and she and her husband, Jeff, kept friends and family posted via Facebook as her condition worsened.

Shana managed to keep her updates shockingly upbeat, even as she lay in the hospital sleepless and hungry (“I’ve never been more excited for hospital food!”). She even sent shout outs to her friends (“Would rather be anywhere but the hospital, but I would especially rather be at Laura and Ryan’s wedding or my 10year law school reunion. My love to everyone. Hope you have a great time tonight!!”) while she fought hard to get home to her family.

Shortly thereafter, Jeff wrote a post asking friends to share happy memories of Shana to keep her spirits up, but a week later — a little over a month after Isaac’s birth — she passed away.

Jeff announced her death on her page (“[Shana] passed away Sunday, October 31, 2010 shortly before noon. She was surrounded by her loving family and friends. Information on services will follow.”) and wrote on her wall on the day of her funeral (“I love you wifey wife, I love you, I love you, a million times over I love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”).

The story of Shana’s Facebook page, from the birth of her son to her sudden and tragic death, is a poignant, painful and tearful journey, and an entirely modern way of connecting with a network of support through life’s most unexpected twists and turns.

The late Elizabeth Edwards penned a letter to her children before her death so her children would have a written connection to their mother’s wisdom even after she’s long gone. Shana had no time, or reason, to do the same for Isaac during her sudden illness, but maybe Jeff will keep her Facebook account active so her son can read about his mother’s courageous and optimistic struggle for life when he’s old enough to understand.

How much are you willing to share on Facebook about your most intimate life moments?

Image: MorgueFile

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