'Grief' hashtags, 'Bluey' sounds and gravesite montages: Why the bereaved are sharing raw pain on TikTok
Certain videos might catch you off guard as you scroll through TikTok: one, of a mother showing how she cleans her daughter's gravesite, for example — or another of a woman processing the loss of her boyfriend to cancer.
But the app best known for dancing videos and wacky filters has, for many people, become a new medium for expressing grief — often with their own viral sounds and trends, like Scotty McCreery's country ballad "Five More Minutes" or an audio clip from the animated Bluey series, both of which have become synonymous with bereavement.
The "grief" hashtag, meanwhile, has over 8.4 billion views, with those of "infant loss" and "mourning" receiving 2.5 billion and 338 million views, respectively.
But why are people turning to TikTok, of all places, for comfort?
'I knew that someone knew how I felt'
When Judea Arthur, 26, lost her two-month-old daughter Noah-Lee Arthur to SIDS in October 2022, she wanted to honor her baby's life in a lasting way.
"My intention with that [first] video was to reach as many people as possible," the mom tells Yahoo Life, "so that they would know my daughter existed, that she was missed."
Her grief became so all-encompassing that all she could think about was being reunited with her child. And through sharing online, she says, she found a release that other mediums couldn't provide.
"I did do journaling. I tried to do counseling. I tried these other methods that are more commonly suggested and what people think are more appropriate for such difficult topics. But it just didn't seem like enough," says Arthur. "The thoughts that I was stuck on at that time would stay in my head until I posted online."
In February, she used the trending Bluey audio over a slideshow of her daughter with accompanying text; it clearly struck a chord, bringing over 1.4 million views and 100,000 likes.
Knowing that others would be able to see her pain offered a sliver of comfort. "People could see it and people could read it," she explains. "And then I knew that someone knew how I felt."
That makes sense to media psychologist Pam Rutledge, who tells Yahoo Life that this form of expression can serve as a catharsis — while also keeping the memory of their loved one alive.
"Part of dealing with grief is being able to express the range of emotions you're feeling. Online provides an outlet," she says. "Even though many are strangers, many people have experienced loss, and often have compassion for others who are trying to cope with grief."
Plus, she adds, the ability for the bereaved person to revisit memories and emotions down the line, through their posts, is another benefit. "Online sharing not only tells others what we're going through," she says, "but it documents and witnesses experiences."
'I wanted to be very realistic about the trauma'
Ashleigh Skattum, 26, of Mississippi, tells Yahoo Life that she turned to TikTok, after being guided there by her sister, when she learned her baby would not survive the birth.
"I was good up until my 20-week scan, when I found out he was really sick, and he wasn't going to make it," she shares. "I was devastated and didn't really know how to handle the news … I remember my sister told me all about TikTok, and I was like, let me just post on there."
Her first infant-loss related video was about the staggering realization she would not be able to use her already-purchased labor gown. "It blew up, like, overnight, and went crazy," says Skattum.
Skattum also participated in the Five More Minutes trend, reflecting on the moment she was holding her baby, stillborn at just under 30 weeks, and a nurse came to carry him away.
Through posting such content, the bereaved mom says she's found a community of others who can relate. "I realized there were a bunch of other people going through the same exact thing I'm going through," she says. "That's how I got through this whole grieving process … I was able to relate to the people that could reach out to me and give me good advice."
For others, social media was already such a large part of their lives that sharing their grief online felt organic.
Kaitlin Reagan is a content creator who shared a couples TikTok account with her boyfriend Francesco LoPresti before he died in March 2022 after an eight-year cancer battle.
"He was 17 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and then in 2021 is when it hit his main organs," Reagan, 25, tells Yahoo Life. "And that was kind of like when everything got very bad."
Before his death, the two would post videos ranging from dance challenges to relationship advice. But once LoPresti's cancer began to spread, that changed.
"We chose to take everybody with us on the journey of what it's like for two young kids going to the doctor together and showing that, no matter what, we got each other," says Reagan. "I think that was keeping me sane, and almost gave both of us purpose. Like, at least we're inspiring people." She adds that "it really just helped us to share our story [rather than] holding it in."
It also made the process less isolating. "Nobody else at our age is going through this. Why are we? And social media just made us kind of embrace our scenario," she explains.
After LoPresti died, Reagan's page became a way to memorialize their time together, which helped ease her pain more than an attempt at grief counseling. "It's my way of not having him die entirely," she says. "I love to talk about our memories. I love to talk about how he changed me into the person that I am. It's like my own little therapy in itself of keeping him alive."
Her decision to post without him was not made in haste.
"I took off 11 months. I didn't post a thing. I didn't post a 'rest in peace' or anything. I just went ghost," says Reagan. "I was so numb. I just felt like every reason I had to keep going was taken from me. A whole half of me was gone."
When she returned to TikTok, she also launched a podcast, Let's Talk with Kaitlin Reagan, recounting both her love for and grief over LoPresti.
In April, she posted a throwback video of the two sharing a silly moment for the Five More Minutes TikTok trend, which has received over a million views.
"It's a lot of challenging yourself," she says, "like, 'Hey, today, I am going to watch a TikTok video of him and I'm going to face these triggers.'"
Arthur says part of what motivated her to post about the death of her infant daughter was to show the public that grief doesn't have an end date.
"I wanted to push back at the people who were telling me that time would heal me or that I couldn't cry for her because she was in a 'better place.' I wanted to be very realistic about the trauma that has come from losing our daughter," says Arthur.
Therapist Angela Phillips says that grieving online makes sense in today's world.
"Social media has really created this shared community of support and connection by allowing these trends that serve as digital memorials," she tells Yahoo Life, adding that it provides space for others who are bereaved to interact — minus the stigma that often comes with with discussing grief in real life.
She stresses that sharing such vulnerable and raw emotions online should be done cautiously and intentionally.
"What are you hoping to gain from posting, commenting or just engaging in social media at all? If you're unsure, just take a small step today and see how you feel," she advises. "You can always share more, but it's difficult to remove content later on."
Dealing with commenters
Those who share so open-heartedly have sometimes faced negativity — including Arthur and her husband, who went through IVF and, in 2022, welcomed their "rainbow baby" (a baby born after a miscarriage or death of an infant), whom Arthur has made a practice of taking to visit her daughter's gravesite.
To that, one critic commanded: "Bring him to the playground not the f****** cemetery." It prompted Arthur to share a video of them at the park, though she does try to limit such engaging.
"I can always tell when a comment comes from a place of misunderstanding or comes from a place of curiosity — or just comes from a place of outright being nasty," she says. "The nasty comments I'll just ignore, because there is no getting through to people like that. Their intention is just to hurt you."
But even with the occasional naysayer who doesn't understand why someone may choose to share their grief with the world, those who do so say they don't regret it.
"It's important to show people that mourning is much more common than we realize," says Reagan. "I just wish that more people were willing to talk about it, because it makes you feel like you're crazy. But building this community and seeing people online who are like 'Oh I feel crazy too,' helps so much."
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