Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shellie Ross, Twitter, and The 'Right' Way to Grieve

I just read this story on American Power, and it got me thinkin' lays out the story:

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. — As Shellie Ross waited in a hospital for word on her son, Bryson, she posted this note to the social networking site "Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool."
She found out 19 minutes later that Bryson was dead.

Ross' decision to broadcast that message Monday night to more than 5,300 people who follow her posts on Twitter has unleashed torrents of support and derision. Social networking experts and friends said Ross was right to reach out for help, while critics questioned whether her son would be alive if she spent less time online.

Ross, 37, is a blogger — — and a prolific poster on Twitter. She has two other sons, ages 18 and 11, and her husband is an Air Force sergeant.

She tweeted throughout Monday. At 5:22 p.m., she posted a message about the fog that rolled in as she worked in her chicken coop.

The emergency call to police came at 5:23 p.m., from Ross' 11-year-old son Kris, said Joe Martin, Brevard County homicide investigator. Ross and her son found Bryson at the bottom of the pool. While Kris was on the phone, Ross performed CPR on Bryson, Martin said.

Bryson was taken to Cape Canaveral Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 6 p.m. Ross was notified at 6:31 p.m., Martin said. At 6:12 p.m. she posted to Twitter, asking for prayers.

"Her tweeting had nothing to do with what happened with regard to her son. It was an accident," Martin said, adding that no charges will be filed.

More info from ABC News:

The Brevard County Sheriff's office told that Ross' 11-year-old son called 911 after they discovered the toddler's body floating the pool. According to Public Information Officer Lt. Bruce Barnett, the mother and older son had been cleaning out a chicken coop while the toddler was playing in the backyard.

Ross had asked her older son to turn off a hose inside the pool enclosure, and the gate behind him evidently did not close properly, said Barnett.

"When [Ross] finished cleaning she went inside and was looking for the 2-year-old, who she thought was with her 11-year-old, and wasn't able to find him and started to panic," he said. "That's when she found him floating."

Barnett said that Ross estimated her son was in the pool for "maybe five minutes," and performed CPR on her son for the duration of the nine-minute 911 call.

"Weird and deeply troubling" for American Power's Donald Douglas & others are Shellie Ross' tweets. First, there is the number of them, and the fact that Ms. Ross was likely tweeting at the same time Bryson was in the pool drowning, from which some infer that Ms Ross was neglecting her child.

Blogger Madison McGraw, a woman with no connection to Ross who read about this tragedy on the internet, is a prime example:
"She had been tweeting from 8:37 in the morning, right on thru while her son fell into the pool, and continued to tweet even after his death - which I find ironic because maybe if she wasn't tweeting, her son might still be alive."
and later
"Between the hours of 8:37 a.m. and 5:22 p.m (her first and last before son was found drowned in pool) she tweeted 74 times.

If a babysitter had been tweeting all day long while in charge of a 2 year old and he drowned while she was tweeting, I doubt that the parents would say, "It's okay, the babysitter feels guilty - we'll let it go."

Don Douglas is more circumspect, only saying:
"Now it turns out that Shellie Ross, whose 2 year-old son drowned on Monday, was tweeting at the time of the accident and sent a message just 19 minutes before her son's death: "Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool."

Of course what they don't say--because they don't actually know, and can only imply the worst--is whether or not Ms. Ross actually was the slightest bit negligent, here. How do these Monday morning quarterbackin' critics know that her son wasn't sitting on her lap, or doing a puzzle on the floor a few feet away for 70 or so of those 74 tweets? What makes them believe (or even want to believe) that she didn't have someone (one of the other kids, or dad) watching her son for the vast majority of the time she was distracted by twitter (or TV, or doing the dishes, or the bathroom, or anything else that might briefly take one's focus away from one's kids, for that matter)? The answer, of course, is nothing at all... Just speculation, and a cynical "build themselves up by knocking others down" attitude.

And as for the proximity of the tweet about the fog (5:22 p.m), to finding her son and trying to save him (5:23 p.m.), it also really doesn't say a thing.

People are always somewhere doing something in the minute before the proverbial blackout hits and leaves them in the dark. If she believed the gate to the pool was locked and Bryson was safely in her yard with her 11 year old, does it really matter what she was doing in that minute prior to realizing that all was not well? Would these people be cruelly second guessing her every move and implying she was a bad mother if instead of sending a tweet, she'd been leaving the bathroom, stirring the soup on the stove, or doing any one of a hundred other little things that parents--including these holier-than-thou critics who're attacking her, I'm sure--do when they think their kids are safely in the yard playing with their siblings? Correlation does not imply causation. And while I'm pulling out the truisms, how about this one. Let he whose kid has never suffered an injury of any kind while they were the adult in charge cast the first stone. (Any parent still holding a rock is either a damned liar, or is raising their kids in a mythical world built by nerf.)

I once had a friend who was in her kitchen doing the dishes while her 9 & 4 year old boys were in the front yard playing with a playground ball, a thing they'd probably done 50 times before. Their mom could see them through the kitchen window, and there was a chain link fence with a gate--latched, she thought--keeping them in the yard. But all she could do was watch in horror as the ball went over the fence and into the street, her 4 year old ran through the gate & into the street after it 20-30 seconds later, and was hit and killed by a passing car.

All these critics who think they know how this happened, feel some perverse need to second guess this mother's every move leading up to her losing her son and cruelly blame her for what happened--you really needn't bother. Just like my friend, Linda, Ms. Ross--and her whole family, probably--is doing plenty of that to themselves, without your help. Yes, there are probably 100 things that Ms. Ross or one of her other kids could've done differently to prevent this tragedy--and I'm sure they would've done them all, if they had the benefit of the hindsight that they, their supporters and friends, and all these nasty people attacking her, unfortunately have now.

The second issue--& the one I find more interesting, really--is the reaction to her tweet while her son was in the hospital being worked on, and the ones (there are two that people mention, though there may've been others) after she knew her son had died.

Why is this a problem for anyone? Who are these people to say they know better than the rest the "right" way to react to tragedy or death in another person's family? What gives them the right (moral, not legal) to pass judgement on another person's methods for reaching out for support, and furthermore, to get on the internet and express their views about it to everyone, including the grieving mother herself? Do they not realize how hurtful they are, or do they just not care about anything other than expressing their own opinions on the subject, regardless of who they may hurt in the process?

Shellie Ross wanted to solicit prayers and good wishes for her son while he was being worked on by the medical professionals, and she turned to a whole lotta people on her twitter feed. I see very little difference between this and those who have intercessions made in church to pray for "congregant such-n-such's mother, who is going in for heart surgery on the 12th" or those who post blurbs on their blogs and facebook pages, requesting prayers for all manner of things from good resolutions to medical issues, to passing the final exam, to the safe return of a soldier (& spouse, sibling, best friend or guy who works in my office) shipping off to Iraq or Afghanistan. I just don't see how the immediacy of the emergency changes the equation, prayer-wise. If anything, I'd think it would make the need for prayer, support, and good wishes more necessary, not less.

Turning to my nemesis Donald Douglas again, he doesn't come right out and express an opinion (I think he likes to see which way the wind blows, sometimes), but two things give us a clue. He quotes pretty heavily from this awful woman, MADISON MCGRAW, who is altogther very critical of of Ms Ross, scolding her for the amount of her tweets in general, and the propriety of the ones closest to her son's death.
ABC News reports that Shellie Ross was tweeting about the fog rolling in and her chickens going back to the coop while 911 was called by her middle son @ 5:23 to report that his 2 year old brother was floating in the pool. Ambulance arrives at 5:38 to find child in cardiac arrest. At 6:12 pm Shellie tweeted and asked for prayers for her son. She had been tweeting from 8:37 in the morning, right on thru while her son fell into the pool, and continued to tweet even after his death - which I find ironic because maybe if she wasn't tweeting, her son might still be alive.
After this tragedy, Shellie Ross has spoken and continued to Tweet, calling people assholes, hoping they rot in hell...but not once has she said, "I take full responsibility and I wish I could take that day back. I feel horrible and am so, so, sorry."

But then again, even if she did say that, I guess actions speak louder than words. And her actions leading up to and after her son's death speak volumes. She was twittering while her child died and she continues to Twitter, telling people to "Go Get Bent" and "Fuc* Tards."

If your child died because you were twittering, wouldn't that be the LAST place on earth you'd want to return to? If this was such a terrible time and you wanted people to 'leave you alone' why wouldn't you at least make your Twitter stream private?
I have no doubt it's only days before Ms. Ross appears for interviews and of course, people are already setting up donations.

I wish we could start a donation in Bryson Ross's name to sue his mother for negligence.

Why aren't people asking more questions about this? Do people not care about children and their safety at all? Who is looking out for children?

Lovely, woman, huh..? Her family must be so proud to've raised such a heartless, judgmental, holier-than-thou being. Obviously she's being criticized by others in ways that must seem all too similar to the way she criticized Ms Ross because in her next post, she responds with some of the same kind of sentiments she complains about Shellie Ross using. A study in hypocrisy, this one.:

"So, if those things make me evil and horrible - so be it.

One thing I know is, I haven't lost a child because I was updating my Twitter status.

So, call me anything you like.

Just don't call me Shellie Ross.

And with that - I'm done with this story. Because if the world doesn't give a shit that a 2 year old died a senseless meaningless death b/c his mom couldn't tear herself away from her online friends and she continues to remain online - then why should I?

ps-leaving shitty Reviews on Amazon for my books doesn't bother me. You MommyBloggers are so Mean Girls! Only older and haggard. With Coupons. LOTS and LOTS of coupons."

The thing Madison McGraw fails to realize, is that it's far more likely the Grace of God that's kept her from being in Shellie Ross' shoes than anything she or Shellie did or didn't do. Rather than kicking a grieving mother when she's down, McGraw ought to be thankful that she's been spared a similar fate, thus far.

This article (and Conor's below) make the most sense to me.:
About the story in general:
"If there's one truism about experiencing death, it's that every person deals with it differently. Some people might collapse in tears. Others might reach for a drink. Maybe some people would cook, or tidy up. Some people might burst out laughing. That's the thing about shock, about right? You never know. To attack someone for their reaction to such a tragedy, well, that's not very nice, to say the least. And, as Ross herself put it, "small minded."

And about the reaction of this unpleasant woman, McGraw, in particular.
"Explaining herself to ABC News, McGraw, a former paramedic and mother of three, said 'I thought, 'Who would tweet that her son just drowned?' I couldn't believe it… I've seen people react [to death], but they're screaming their heads off, crying and they don't know what to do. They're not on Twitter. I've never seen that before and I was just shocked.'

She was shocked. And she immediately tweeted about it. Huh."

One wonders whether she (& the rest of those complaining) even stopped to say a prayer for the child before hittin' the internet to rip into the mother... For the life of me, I just don't understand some people...

The second clue as to Donald's thoughts are contained in his derisive reference to the blog post of one of his "enemies", Conor Friedersdorf:
"Conor Friedersdorf blogged on this, at the Daily Dish no less, saying it's no big deal:

Isn't this just the latest example of people becoming insanely judgmental about a fellow citizen merely because she conceives of technology differently? It is unimaginable to me that people would react this way if Ms. Ross shouted over the back fence in the middle of the crisis to ask all in earshot to pray, and five hours later, still in shock, mechanically composed a letter to friends lamenting her loss.

But doing what amounts to the same thing on Twitter? It provokes vitriol that I find every bit as inexplicable as I do the Tweeting of a child's death. In this moment of utmost gravity, you're criticizing her approach to social media? "This woman is a perfect example of where humanity is heading as it becomes more enslaved by technology," one commenter said. In fact, the callousness strangers direct via Internet at a grieving mother is a far more dire harbinger of where we're headed.

Hmm. I wonder if he'd be saying the same thing if that was Trig Palin floating in the water? Somehow I doubt it."

Leave it to Donald (& at least one of his echoing sycophants, obviously) to use this story to score political hits.

Reading between the lines, it seems that Donald thinks tweeting about the death of one's son IS a big deal, though he fails to explain why... (I guess everyone is just supposed to "know," and anyone who doesn't, obviously isn't a part of the hive.)

I did find a woman, another blogger, who offers some explanation (though I believe that like McGraw, she makes some pretty big assumptions that she has no way of confirming, but on which she bases much of what she believes, anyway.)
The Drowned Boy & How He Changed Social Media - cara ellison:
"My feeling is that she is not in her right mind right now. She has no idea what she’s doing, and I give her miles and miles of latitude for that. This isn’t a personal failing at all. It’s just a fact; she has no way to process this. If her instinct is to be ‘alone’ while on the computer where she can receive free, safe condolences on the web, that is probably a pretty comfortable place to be.

Sometimes if neither side is safe, the safest place is the wall. For Shelli, I believe the Web is the wall. She doesn’t know me, or probably most of the people whose hearts ached for her in that moment, and it was a confirmation that yes, people are “out there”, and yes, some care, even if they can’t calm the cracking ache in her own heart. If she has no family with her, then I understand being on the web even more. If her family is there, it is quite possible she doesn’t want to talk to them, or see their grieving faces.

My heart goes out to Shelli. I think it was odd that she Tweeted the drowning of her son – the very worst, absolute worst, thing that could ever happen to any parent. But I also think the very fact of its awfulness excuses her insanity for doing it."

The same author later wrote a second post, PostScript To The Shellie Ross Twitter Story. And while I disagree with some of her assumptions and the conclusions they lead her to, I think she discusses the situation with all the grace & compassion missing from McGraw & Douglas, and I recommend both of her posts to anyone interested in this story.

As I said above, I don't understand why it's so insane (or weird or deeply troubling) for a person to reach out in the face of personal tragedy. I think it's what many of us do, one way or another. Had she used the keys on her phone to dial & talk to someone while she was in the hospital waiting room, no one would've said a word, but because she spoke more publicly, people are oddly offended.

The first experience with blogging & death I can recall was last spring, when the troubled son of a blogger I'd never before read committed suicide while in jail. (The father is the internet equivalent of a "FoaF," an online friend of an online acquaintance of a blogger I used to read pretty regularly, and one post led me to another, to his.) He wrote and posted this very soon after being notified by the police, and I can recall reading it the next day and crying for this stranger's loss and for the promise and potential of a 20 year old life snuffed out so long before it's time, and the feelings of desperation and despair that must precede such an act. I teared up again re-reading it now.

Yes, perhaps people could ask the same questions of this man that they're asking of Shellie Ross. Where was this man's wife while he was writing this, and why wasn't he with her? I don't know, but as with Shellie, I'm not prepared to assume the worst and scold him for not being where my assumptions tell me he should've been. I'd like to think she wanted to be alone, or to take something and try to sleep, to lessen the pain. But even if Chuck should've been with his wife and wasn't, that's between he and his wife, and I would no more write a post attacking him for it--especially while he was so obviously grieving--than I would step between an arguing couple in the supermarket, telling one spouse why I thought the other was right. Sometimes, it's just none of your business--even when you're invited to share in another's personal life.

More recently, a blogger who I only know as Old Soldier posted about losing his wife of 40 years three days earlier, and losing his sister-in-law (his brother's wife) the night before.

Kyle Liese was the younger brother of a guy I went through Jr high & high school with. We were never close, and I barely knew his brother at all--I have some vague recollection of him trying to sell me tickets for a ski trip upstate back in jr high, & honestly, I'm not even positive it was him (though I DO remember that a bunch of the kids who went got busted for drinking, and had to have their parents drive 2-3 hours each way to pick them up)--but I still paid my respects at the blog post, and never once considered the propriety of there being a blog about his death.

And while it wasn't about something so final as a death, Donald himself recently posted something about his home life as a kid that I found quite personal. And no matter what I think about Donald as a person, or his politics, or even the way he treats others--I'm thinking here of what he'd likely do, if the shoe was on the other foot--I would never use the personal narrative he made public, against him. In fact, while I don't blame those who choose to put such situations behind them and keep them private, I see those who choose to reveal their history of abuse as brave. I think it really encourages current abuse survivors when they see people they respect saying it happened to them, too.

When people open up their hearts and share something personal and painful in their lives, as Shellie, and Chuck, and "Old Soldier" and the friends of Kyle Liese, and even Donald did, I don't believe it is an invitation to stick the knife in, even if you happen to believe they in some way "deserve" to be stabbed. To me, it doesn't matter whether or not you support any one of their decisions to reveal themselves as they have, or think that you'd do better living their lives than they have... Common decency says you treat them with respect & compassion in public, and if you must trash them at all, do so in private. Contrary to what some seem to believe, the world doesn't need to know every nasty thought and opinion that enters your head. There's something to be said for discretion.

And for those to whom this matters:
Yes anonymous, Shellie looks to be a conservative.
But those attacking her; Madison, Donald, the NYPOST (& to some extent, Cara) are also hardcore conservatives.
Those coming to her defense (Conor and I) are further to the left. (Conor identifies right-of-center, but Donald has a whole series of posts saying different; and there should be no doubt that I'm a liberal.)

Chuck is a Democrat.

"Old Soldier" is a conservative.

I'm sure there are many who'll counterweigh my unscientific sampling here, (& I don't really think there is a political aspect to the story or to the motivations of anyone involved, aside Don and anon, who manufactured one in an all too obvious attempt to use this sad event to score a cheap point) but since that anonymous ass at Donald's blog saw fit to try to make it political, saying:
"Her husband is in the military and she asked for prayer.

How do I know already, even without reading another thing, just what is going to be said about her by the dark, dreary, dank leftard wing of the political spectrum."

he deserves a response:

No, rightard... It isn't "the left" who's mistreating the grieving military wife who asked for prayers for her dying son. It's your fellow conservatives. It's Donald Douglas, the author right there at the blog where you posted your comment.

If you insist on making sweeping generalizations about people, you might at least do yourself the favor of actually reading & comprehending the words contained in the post to which you're replying, so you don't look like a complete moron, while doing so.

And finally, since Madison McGraw was so fascinated by Shellie Ross' tweet stream, I went to take a look to see how her's compared. Madison McGraw (madisonmcgraw) on Twitter. Predictably, her feed is now protected, leaving her free to toss her stones from the safety of her newly encased glass house. Perhaps while she's hold up in there, she can stretch her shoes, rescrew her head so it's on correctly, and grow her terrible awful tiny grinch heart, before coming back out and speaking in public anymore. Yeesh.

Revising & Extending:
12/20/09, 8:20 AM: Another post that gets it right (In far fewer words than I did, too):
Blogging mom criticized for tweeting after son’s death
12/20/09, 6:25 PM: Looks like someone went to the trouble of writing an expose of Madison McGraw's tweeting, after all... (& dig the title, too. Exactly right.)
12/21/09, 2:12 PM - Be Careful When Assembling an Angry Lynch Mob.. - white and black - Open Salon


md said...

Spot on.

Jennifer said...

So very well said! Kudo's to you and your compassion!

Retta said...

I would very much like to hug you right now.

Stephanie said...

I stumbled on your article trying to find out more about this tragedy, in utter disbelief that someone.. anyone would judge this Mother who had to put her 2 year old in a casket. Your article was well written, and restored my faith in the human heart. Evil hides in many places. If Karma exists, may it stike this Madison McGraw. Sad pathetic heartless woman has created so much additional pain for this mother. Thank you for your acknowledgment of this!

Sugar said...

Shellie is a personal friend of mine and I think she'd be more than thankful for this thoughtful post.

Kristen McD said...

I'm shocked that I read this piece in it's entirety - but I am certainly glad I did. Thank you for discussing this tragedy thoughtfully and compassionately. You are so right, on so many counts.

repsac3 said...

To everyone who complimented me for writing this, thanks!!

Honestly, I can't see how anyone could see it any other way, so I kinda wish my thinkin' on this was so common as to not be worth remarking on favorably... ...if that makes sense. So while I'm happy to get the kudos, I'm a little sorry to get them, too. (Perhaps one day we'll all live in a world where a post like this will get the response it really should get; a hearty "Well, Duh.") ((& yeah, I know... In THAT world, I'd never've had to write it in the first place...))

@Sugar: Tell the Ross family that mine is praying for them, and try to keep her away from all these posts and comments about her and her family (including mine), at least until she's really ready for them.

modomains said...

In today's world of social media, I can't understand why anyone would take issue over the fact that she tweeted a message from her cellphone. Mobile phones and Twitter apps are hand in hand. No one blinks an eye when other news hits Twitter. This woman lost her son, her husband in the military and she was alone. She wrote in 144 characters or less while still in shock. It must've been so surreal. And she tweeted to people who she thought were her friends.
For her haters, I have this to ask? Why would you tweet to her all of your vile comments if you felt that she should be grieving differently. Or why would you Tweet how "blah blah" this and that she was on your own Twitter accounts. That's so very hypocritical.
And finally, why on earth would you jump on ABC, CNN and no-telling where to further take away this woman from grieving her child.
Twitter nor her use caused the child's death. The last I read, the child drowned in a pool. And that type of accident has unfortunately happened to too many kids long before there was such a thing as Twitter.
I am saying a prayer for this lady and all of the people who are shamefully insulting her and her family at this sad time.
Kimberly Kimbrough

ginmar said...

McGraw sure seems to have a hardon against what she contemptuously refers to as 'Mommy Bloggers'. Somebody posted a review at AMazon warning against a witchhunt by just such a group of women, but isn't McGraw using her own status as a mother to justify her attacks on Shellie Ross? If she's such a great mom, why doesn't she have custody of all of her kids, anyway?

Oh, wait, did I say that out loud?

This kind of crap makes me furious. When I lost my mom suddenly I went absolutely bananas. I cannot imagine losing a child, much less suffering that and being attacked for it.

Nerd Score (Do nerds score?)