Smith said she receives many, sometimes “hundreds,” of emails and comments every week requesting that she insert specific people into her videos. The stories are so touching that she can’t read them all because of how much she’ll cry. But some days she still tries.
“I’m actually very spiritual. I believe in this stuff. I’ve lost people that I talk to all the time,” she said. “Because love just doesn’t … it can’t go away. It’s too big. When you love somebody the way my mom loves me, the way I love my friends, it can’t be contained in this boring earthly body.”
Grief arises on TikTok the way it does in the real world: randomly
In the real world, we carry a persistent expectation that our grief will expire. Funerals come and go. Bereavement leave ends. Friends stop asking how you’re doing out of fear of saying the wrong thing.
But on TikTok, in what can often be an endless sea of noise and distraction, images of grief can arise randomly in the algorithm just as easily as reminders of your loved ones pop up uninvited as you move through the day.
The difference on the platform is that you’re often, by default, not alone in the experience. The video may be confessional, theatrical or didactic, but there’s a good chance it’s going to feature a human you can see and connect to.
“It’s like each successive generation breaks a boundary when it comes to sharing grief,” said Megan Devine, a psychotherapist who studies grief and is the author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK.
“On TikTok, you get rewarded for immediacy, which feeds into the sense of, ‘We should be talking about this more,'” Devine said. “It’s making big overwhelming issues digestible. … It’s safer to explore the edges of what we can tell the truth about.”
The hashtag #Grief is among TikTok’s most popular, with over 9 billion individual posts. And even in that huge conversation, Smith’s videos about Denise manage to stand out.