When my little brother, my only sibling, died last August, I canceled all plans, dodged phone calls, and curled inside myself like a fiddlehead fern.

A few weeks later, when I lifted my head, it dawned on me that hardly anyone knew of his passing. My parents are nontraditional and private, so there hadn't been a funeral or any official death notice. And yet the people in his life had a right to know. So I did what comes naturally in the 21st century: I posted about his death on Facebook.

The idea of that information being broadcast next to FarmVille updates made my stomach roil. But I couldn't figure out where else to share it. A group email was too insular. A newspaper, too 1953. So I scanned a childhood photo of us, him as a baby with dark saucer eyes and doughy, delicious, stubby little legs. I wrote a short missive about all the ways he was wonderful (how he doted on his shelter cats; his love for both heavy metal and the joyously vacant stylings of Justin Bieber) and the things I sorrowfully realized he'd miss out on: the latest Star Wars movie, his 30s. Then I hit Post, dropping that somber declaration into the mundane days of 527 of my closest "friends."

The news hit my feed like a dirty bomb, and for weeks, my notifications were filled with expressions of suffering: some so loving I choked back tears at the office ("The world seems less bright now") and some painfully off-kilter (a dashed-off "So sorry!!" felt like what you'd say to someone you'd kept waiting at brunch). But as each incredulous comment blinked onto my screen, I got a small hit of kindness, something I hadn't realized how much I'd needed. My brother's college roommate, my third-grade choral teacher, and a woman I met on a beach in Vietnam a decade ago: They all reached out to put their digital arms around me, reeling me in for a moment of communion.

Posting my shell-shocked tribute still felt brutally raw, and it stunned me to think I'd placed my trust in everyone from my elementary school BFF to my former boss. But I'd needed to make the loss real, to let the world know. I'd taken a leap off a concert stage, and each of those comments was a hand underneath me, crowd-surfing me to my destination. I still don't know quite where that is, but I know 527 people who might help me get there.


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