By Molly Hayes Hamilton Spectator Feb 14, 2014
Three days before Christmas, an Ottawa father received a horrifying call.
Francis Moran’s son, Christopher — Topher, they called him — had been hit by a car in Cambridge.
The 20-year-old, who was studying architecture at the University of Waterloo’s satellite campus, was rushed to Hamilton General Hospital, where he had emergency surgery.
In those first vulnerable moments, Moran updated family and friends on Twitter.
As he typed those first words, Francis Moran did not know how the story would end.
He thought “long and hard” before sending out that first tweet.
“The fact that this conversation was taking place in a public forum wasn’t lost on me,” he reflects weeks later.
“There’s a natural human inclination to reach out in a time like this … this was an effective way to let my community know what was going on. I didn’t really anticipate the kind of response I got,” he says.
As the days passed and the waiting grew more painful, support poured in. What could have been his family’s own private struggle was suddenly very, very public.
“It was overwhelming, heartwarming, comforting,” he says.
Social media has changed the nature of even our most intimate conversations. McMaster University communications professor Alex Sevigny says this is a return to oral culture. Tragedies such as a car accident or a sudden death “weren’t so private in the past,” he says.
“In an oral culture or in a village, if someone was hurt, everyone would know quickly … people would extend support … and I think what we’re seeing is a return to that idea.”
He calls it the “global town square.”
But there has been debate around “oversharing.” National Public Radio host Scott Simon garnered international attention last year after tweeting very publicly about the death of his 84-year-old mother as he sat with her in hospital.
Both The New York Times and the Guardian met with controversy earlier this year after columnists at each published critical pieces about a Connecticut woman (@AdamsLisa)’s public narration of her journey with breast cancer over Twitter.
In Ottawa last year — where Moran lives — a young woman named Amanda (@TrappedAtMyDesk) took to Twitter after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, sharing intimate reflections as she faced her final months. A video compilation of her tweets created earlier this month has gone viral.
For Moran, tweeting allowed him to connect with the people who wanted to “look in the window, but didn’t feel like knocking on the door.”
In fact, the family webcast Christopher’s memorial service because many family and friends abroad wanted to share in the memorial.
Throughout his ordeal, Moran did not receive one message of criticism about his public sharing of grief. “Not one — not even one neutral comment,” he said.
But he was conscious throughout of what he was doing.
“It made me careful, a few days in, about how detailed I got. It’s one thing for me to choose to open up to the world myself; it’s quite another to expose my son to that. He’s an adult. He’s an autonomous human being and I became really conscious of that and really aware that, if he wakes up, I don’t want him to be to mad at me for personal details of his that I shared in this way.”
Moran knows this is not for everybody, but he does not regret sharing his journey on social media — even now that he knows how the story ends.
“They don’t call it social media for nothing. I might’ve started on Twitter with the intention of saying nothing but professional issues, but we’re all human beings … we start interacting on a personal level in pretty short order,” he says.
Follow the link if you wish to see the stream of tweets…