Scrolling through my facebook feed the other day, I came across a photo of a dead child. A child who had died of an incurable brain tumour. Her parents had shared photos of her last few hours and her dead body on a public facebook fan page, which is “liked” by someone I’m connected to on facebook.
This has happened to me before. A friend had liked a similar photo of a boy who had died of cancer because she wanted to show her support for the family. She unliked it when I let her know it was being amplified through her friends’ news feeds, including those of many bereaved parents.
My newsfeed is generally full of news and photos from the childhood cancer community, but rarely something so brutal.
The photo caught my eye, because the little girl reminded me of Zoe. So I masochistically clicked on the album. She looked just as Zoe had when she died. Hollowed out by cancer, frail and bloodless. Skin and bones in a pretty dress, with her fingernails painted, long flowing hair, her precious things surrounding her.
I have pictures like this. Zoe in her casket. I don’t look at them very often, but I’m glad I have them. I’ve never shared them on facebook, or posted them on my blog, with one exception. In my post Always wear the sparkly shoes, I posted a link to a photo of just Zoe’s feet in her worn sparkly shoes in her casket, with a warning before you clicked.
I have an inkling of why the parents of the little girl posted their pictures, partly from what they said in the post. They were angry. There is still no treatment for this type of tumour. Not even to buy time. They wanted to pour out their anger and pain to the world. To have it seen and understood.
I guess it’s the same anger and helplessness that prompted so many people to share the photo of Alan Kurdi, the refugee toddler washed up dead on a beach in Turkey. Or the even more graphic image that turned up in my newsfeed last week of a burnt corpse from the fire bombing of a gay nightclub in New Orleans in 1973.
I don’t know if it helps. The images are repeated so often, shared ad nauseum so that they cease to be shocking. Just one more dead body in my newsfeed. And there it is again. And again. And again. The overwhelming relentlessness and repetitiveness of it can leave you feeling numbness or despair are the only options.
And it’s not just pictures of dead children. It’s violence against women, the whole continuum. Told to smile by strangers, groped in bars, groomed and coerced while those who know look the other way, drugged and sexually assaulted or raped, killed by their boyfriends, by their ex-boyfriends, by husbands, by entitled strangers. We women keep a litany of names in our heads. Many are not just newspaper stories. They’re our friends. There’s something I’m glad I don’t have to explain to my little girl.
I don’t have an answer. It is important to be informed about the injustice, violence and terror in the world. To have compassion. To take action. If we don’t nothing will change. But what is the right action? How many more Alan Kurdi’s have there been since those photos swept around the world.
But to feel compassion, is to put yourself in another’s shoes, to feel all the pain. Sometimes when I see the litanies of horror pouring through the media and my newsfeeds all I feel is skinless, raw, bleeding and powerless. I’m guilty of switching off. Of choosing one day numbness, another despair.
Today I’m switching off, feeding my soul with the people I love, regrowing my skin. So that when I come back I can believe in people again.