Diddy, grief, and social media as diary
My grandmother died on what would have been an otherwise forgettable December night. In Greece, where she lived, the first hours of Christmas Eve had already kicked in. But when my mother’s wail tore from the kitchen and into the living room, where my sister and I had been nestled on the couch – watching The Christmas List for the hundredth time – it was still nightfall.
My grandmother died in the year 2009. Instagram hadn’t been invented yet, neither had Snapchat. The world was still slowly shifting to smartphones, not yet at the moment where we would tweet our every quip, Snapchat our every selfie, or Instagram our every dream.
But still, there was the grief sitting in my stomach. It was my first winter break home from college and I felt both compelled to write something about my grandmother and to say nothing at all. It felt like a painless way to tell my new friends so that I could start the next semester without it hanging over every “So how was your vacation?” And yet, it felt like pandering too, a request for compassion that made me feel embarrassed. I eventually wrote a status in Greek, hiding my sadness behind words I knew most people wouldn’t try to translate. Then, I ended up deleting it entirely. By the time I got back to my dorm a few weeks later, I decided not to mention it at all.
As a reporter, I now see grief on social media almost every day. It is there the minute I have to type in the name of another victim, another life lost to a mass shooting, a murder, a fire, a terrorist attack. There are devastated tributes from loved ones. There are memories from friends. There are anecdotes from people who had never actually met the victim, but who had been touched by them in some way. But it is when there is nothing for that person, not a single online goodbye, that I somehow always feel the saddest.
This conflicting emotion – so at odds with the 18-year-old who couldn’t write a sentence about her grandmother’s death online – didn’t truly make sense to me until I watched someone else’s very public grief. That someone was Diddy.
The news about Kim Porter’s death broke just before 4.30pm on a Thursday in November. It first appeared on TMZ and then, as all celebrity news stories do, it spread like wildfire. I was assigned the article and immediately dove into her life. Too young to remember the years when Kim and Diddy’s love dominated headlines in the 1990s, I poured through their interviews – from the loved-up reconciliation after Diddy left Kim for two years to be with Jennifer Lopez to the resilient goodbye when she broke-up with him for the last time after learning he had fathered another child while she was pregnant with his twins. I clicked through photo after photo of them still together through the recent years, happily co-parenting their children and remaining close friends. She was only 47.
The first thing Diddy posted on Instagram after Kim’s death was a video they had filmed at a photo shoot for Essence during that loved-up 2006 reconciliation. The gorgeous couple are clearly head over heels for each other, even when they’re not posing for the camera. Diddy cradles Kim’s pregnant belly. He nuzzles her shoulder. They dance together in a room, bathed in sunlight.
“For the last three days, I’ve been trying to wake up out of this nightmare,” Diddy writes in the caption. “But I haven’t. I don’t know what I’m going to do without you baby. I miss you so much. Today I’m going to pay tribute to you, I’m going to try to find the words to explain our unexplainable relationship. We were more than best friends, we were more than soulmates. WE WERE SOME OTHER SHIT!! And I miss you so much.”
That same day he posted one of Kim’s professional modeling shots, writing “Word’s can’t ever explain”. And a photo of her smiling on a boat. And a video collage made up of pictures of their family. He speaks directly to her again through the caption. “I’ll raise our family just like you taught me to,” Diddy promises. And then, a turn. “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS SHIT!!!!!! FUUUUUUUUUCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!”
It was Diddy’s pain. Spilling out, in real-time, on the grid of his Instagram page.
Later there were videos. Kim dancing. Kim playing the piano. Kim playing pattycake with her daughters in the water as the sun set over the ocean. Moving memories of a woman that had once only been for Diddy’s eyes to see. And that’s when I realized it. Diddy was going through the stages of grief. And he was choosing to give us a front row seat.
Social media has granted us far more access to celebrities than we’ve ever had before. Tucked between Instagram stories of our friends showing off their latest foodie finds and the daily video of their cat is Rihanna putting on lip gloss and Jennifer Garner making chocolate chip banana bread at 5am. Social media has also given celebrities far more control of their brand than they’ve ever had before. Gone are the days where they have to rely on a canned publicist statement, glowing magazine profile, or Barbara Walters interview to get their story out. Now our stars, big and small, have an audience at their very fingertips - a power they can use to inspire, connect, even monetize.
In many ways, the rest of us have followed suit. We may not all be posting #spoco or #fitspo, but we are curating a version of our lives that we want to present to the world – and to ourselves. Gorgeous vacation shots, flawless outfit of the days, going “Instagram official” with a new bae. Maybe we’re trying to manifest our dreams into reality by posting them into existence. Maybe we’re trying to hide behind them. Either way, how could there be any room for sadness?
And yet, still there is grief. And, much as it does in life, it seems to change the rules online. Diddy didn’t choose to first post a professional shot of Kim as tribute after she passed away. Neither did Ariana Grande when she broke her silence after Mac Miller’s similarly shocking death. They picked the kind of photos of their former lovers that only they would have on their phones. They posted video clips that still showed Kim and Mac moving and smiling and laughing. Their heartbroken captions felt like a return to social media in its earliest days – when our angst spilled out into Xangas and Livejournals and AIM away messages.
In today’s current social media landscape, Diddy and Ariana’s posts felt different. They felt raw. They felt real. But then I thought back to those victim tributes I see week after week after a tragedy and realized that the purpose behind them wasn’t so different from everything else we choose to post on social media. Of course, part of the reason we memorialize the dead on social media is due to our own need for compassion and connection during a trying time. But maybe – much like with our dreams – we’re trying to post them into existence as well. Making sure they’re living, laughing, and breathing, even if only in the confines of our Instagram grid.
The final stage of grief is acceptance. It’s impossible to know if that’s where Diddy is at right now, of course, but he does want to let his followers know he’s trying to move forward. Now a single father, Diddy is the one in charge of carpool duty for his 11-year-old twin daughters D’Lila and Jessie.
“Today the journey begins,” he declared in a video titled “Day 1” on Twitter last week. “I’m now part of the 6am crew. This is mommy-daddy, daddy-mommy, checking in. All my single mothers, they know what that is. Even some single fathers. You gotta step up and play both rules. The mother’s do it all the time.”
And still, when it came to the caption, there was only one person he was trying to talk to.
“New day. New life. New responsibilities. KIM I GOT THIS. Just like you taught me.”