June 10th 2017. Approximately 4:50pm.


I was just about to go to the grocery store with my Mom when the phone rang.


Me: Hey, what’s up? Shawn Crockwell

Caller: Juanae. Are you ok?

Me: Ah, yeah.

Caller: Seriously, Juanae. Are you ok?

Me: I’m fine! I’m going to the grocery store.

Caller: Juanae, you need to call your parents.

Me: For what? My mom is outside in the car. What happened?

Caller: There’s a message going around that an MP was found dead.

Me: Oh my goodness. Who is the…wait…why are you calling me? Who is the MP?


My best friend, Samantha, over hears the conversation and picks up her phone to check her messages.


Caller: They are saying that it’s Shawn.

Me: Huh? What are you talking about?

My heart races. My knees get weak. I lean on the bathroom wall and look out the window at my mother siting in the car.


Samantha: Nae! Oh my gosh, look Nae.


She shows me a WhatsApp message. “Condolences to friends and family of Shawn Crockwell. Heard he passed away.”


Me: I’ll call you back.


I hung up the phone and immediately checked my messages as if reading it on Samantha’s phone was illegitimate. To my horror, it was real. I found the same message in a WhatsApp group chat. Obviously I don’t believe it because if my brother was dead I should know. My mother should know.


So in an effort to dispel this ridiculous rumour I dial Shawn’s number. It rings. “Whew” I think to myself, relieved that his phone is ringing. It rang for about ten seconds, which were perhaps the longest ten second of my life, before going to voicemail. I call again. I get his voicemail again.


My Mom is outside growing impatient. She has no idea what is going on and why I am taking so long to come out to the car. I can’t tell her anything because I don’t want to alarm her. But there is no way that I can just act like everything is ok. I don’t know what to do. In desperation I call a friend of Shawn’s who confirmed what my heart was most afraid of. It was true. He was dead.


In that moment I forgot that my mother was outside. I forgot that she could hear me. I forgot I had neighbours. I lost control of myself. Devastation was the only think I knew. I collapsed onto my living room floor and screamed, “No! Not my brother!”


As the anxiety of the situation rushed around me I couldn’t breathe. Samantha pulled me up off the floor. I ran outside into the yard but I still could not gain my composure. I fell into the grass and sobbed. I screamed. I shouted. I cursed. I cried. I was so confused. How could my brother be dead? What happened? Why hadn’t the police informed my parents? How did others know before us? Nothing made sense.


Samantha tried to console me. But I was inconsolable. She reminded me that my Mom was just around the other side of the house and tried to quiet my screaming. But it was too late. My mother was already running through the yard to find me. She wanted to know what was wrong, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her.


Simultaneously, other members of my family were having similar experiences. My brother Mark opened his phone to find the same WhatsApp message as I did. Confused, he too called Shawn only to be met with the same devastating news. My niece Selita overheard people talking about her Uncle Shawn’s death whilst preparing for a bridal shower. And Shawn’s son Shauntino received a message in a chat group saying that his father was dead.


Samantha manages to get me up off the ground and into my car. She drives my mother and I to our family homestead where we met my father and the rest of our immediate family. During the ten-minute drive my phone rang and pinged and vibrated non-stop. Everyone was learning about the news of my brother.


Our family did not have the luxury of being informed in a quiet and compassionate setting of Shawn’s death. There was no first responder or family liaison officer to help us understand what had happened. It was just us sitting in our living room trying to piece together the gossip that we all had heard. The phone kept ringing with calls of disbelief and people flocked to our home. But for hours we sat and cried in confusion until a member of the Bermuda Police Service finally came and formally informed us of Shawn’s passing.


It was the worst day of our lives. Losing Shawn was the worst thing that had ever happened to us. This loss coupled with the way in which we learned of it continues to be the source of so much trauma. Someone breached confidentiality and shared the news of my brother’s death prematurely. From the moment that breach took place the information spread across this island in a frenzy. Before the police publicly identified him as the deceased, people were sharing his photo and placing ‘R.I.P.” next to his name. The circumstances of his death were embellished and became an immediate source of scandalous fodder. It was literally the talk of the town without any thought or respect for his family.


And you know what, I get it. I understand how social media works. It was a sensational story to share. But I wonder how many people thought about his family before they hit send? I wonder how many people considered his mother and whether she even knew that her son was dead? I’m curious about how many people sympathized with his children and the grief they were about to be enveloped by? Or did they just share it without giving any of us a single thought.


Perhaps they didn’t mean any harm. But it hurts to see your loved one’s face posted everywhere only hours or in our case minutes after you learn of his passing. It hurts to hear rumours of how your loved one died. Where they found him. Who found him. How long he had been there. It hurts like nothing you could ever imagine having the life of someone you loved eternally, diminished to a conspiracy case for amateur detectives and reporters. It hurts to have the death of someone so special to you reduced to wreckless gossip and empty chatter.


Even the best intentions can have negative repercussions. Social media is not the place that a family should learn that they lost a loved one. Its instantaneous nature is a wonderful asset for networking and communication, but it is not the platform for sharing sensitive information. Despite your best intentions, doing this is destructive and inconsiderate.


There are protocols in place for these kinds of circumstances. Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram are not the way to transmit this kind of information. We are not the first family to endure this kind of injustice and unfortunately, we are not the last either. But as a community we can make sure that no other family endure this kind of tragedy again by being responsible social media users and teaching responsible social media behaviour to our children.


Here’s hoping that we do not allow technology to remove our humanity. Please, pause before you post.


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