Grief in the time of Facebook
Antoine Leiris's powerful message of strength in the aftermath of tragedy
On the night of November 13, 2015, Hélène Muyal-Leiris was rocking out to US band, Eagles of Death Metal. She was one of many in attendance at the Bataclan Theater in Paris's 11th arrondissement, just looking to have a good time. Her husband, Antoine and 17-month-old son, Melvil, waited up for her at home. When they couldn't reach her, they knew that something had happened.
The November 2015 terrorist attacks came after high alert in France triggered by the January 2015 attacks, which targeted cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket, killing 22. Hélène was lost in the fight that night, along with 88 others at the theater alone.
When he heard the news, Antoine was overcome by grief. He could only do one thing to abate his pain: write.
Three days after the attack, he took to Facebook to write a letter to his wife's killers, which instantly went viral. His letter went like this:
On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.
I don't know who you are and I don't want to know, you are dead souls. If this God for whom you kill blindly made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife is a wound in his heart.
So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.
You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost.
I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.
Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in heaven with free souls which you will never have.
Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep. He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free. Because you will never have his hatred either.
Leiris's words resonated with so many, that out of that letter came an internationally bestselling book called, You Will Not Have My Hate, based on that night and its aftermath. In one quiet evening, I read the slim and delicate book in its entirety, feeling as if I myself had lost someone as beloved to me as Hélène was, and continues to be, to Antoine.
In our days, social media is the same outlet where we announce happy things—proposals, promotions, and vacations—as we do sad things, namely deaths. I see this all the time: a post with the picture of a loved one, a few words, and comments by people that that person touched. A friend of mine who recently passed away had his Facebook wall turned into a memorial, where people posted fond memories, wishes and prayers for the family. It's as if the person still exists; those words bring them back to life somehow.
Writing is an effective tool for self-expression, whether it be through a letter, a journal entry, or a blog post. Writing is a recognized form of therapy, offering us a way to filter our disorganized thoughts of grief into coherent sentences. Words become a way for the soul to be reflected and shared, to preserve the person we lost.
Grief is a complicated process that can take years or even a lifetime to digest. Finding ways to access and translate that emotion can be constructive and positive ways to heal. Social media, despite its bad reputation, can be used for good. For more on the merits of writing as therapy, read this.