Other's Day: how an Instagram hashtag gave bereaved people a community

After feeling overwhelmed by inescapable reminders of their deceased relatives, two Instagrammers built a movement to make space for people to grieve.

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Emma tells me about some of the messages she’s gotten lately. Most of them are pretty heart-breaking.

“One woman messaged me: ‘I had to physically run past a display in Tesco yesterday,’” she says. “She just couldn't handle it. And that is not uncommon.”

“Today, I just broke down on the train” is a regular message Robyn has been getting. Simply “I hate this,” is another common appearance.

“I had a message from someone I worked with consistently for ages,” Robyn says, “Like, I would go out for drinks with her. But then she sent me a message and said, ‘I’ve been trying for years and it’s not happening.’”

“Celebration days” are difficult for anyone going through a bereavement – birthdays, holidays, or the anniversary of a death – and regardless of whether or not the bereavement was recent, they rarely get much easier. And one of the most challenging days for the children who’ve lost parents is Mother’s/Father’s Day, when they become inundated with other people’s smiling photographs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Robyn Donaldson and Emma Hopkinson are both interior design influencers, with 50K and 12K Instagram followers respectively. They blog together, Instagram together, and are known for their social media-celebrity friendship. Yet their partnership was not borne out of a shared love of soft furnishings, but out of a strangely-timed meeting when they were both on the brink of bereavement.

“It transpired that Emma’s mum and my nan, who brought me up [because] I'm just estranged from my mum, had cancer at the same time,” Robyn tells me. “We spent a few years kind of being able to be normal with each other because, it was quite not everyone has gone through that at that stage and it was freeing to have someone you could talk to and just be like, ‘Oh, the chemo’s shit, isn't it?’ And we just stayed friends ever since.”

They tell me that after being in touch for years, and after losing both their mother figures, they began to speak more deeply about grief. And this past Mother’s Day inspired both of them to share that grief on their individual Instagrams.

“I would love to ring my nan,” Robyn tells me about why she decided to share this off-piste message. “I would love my mum not to be crazy and to have a relationship with her. But it’s not going to happen. And on these days, it’s just inescapably reminding you that that's the case.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Here's a corner of my house all for my Nan. A phrase she used to say immortalised in glass, glitter and gold by @alexmayhughes and a picture of her on her wedding day. She's everywhere in Foxberry Towers. I'm very grateful that #othersday makes me feel like I'm doing something constructive in her memory and that in a way, the most caring, nourishing, supportive of women is somehow still passing her enveloping Northern love to a whole heap of little bruised souls. There was always room round her table and there will always be room at mine if you're alone. To you, lovely Barbara, and all the other amazing people who helped raise me - I was and am a very lucky girl. . . . . . . . . . . . . #gallerywall #popart #jimihendrix #typography #grease #illustration #howihome #designinspo #designideas #howwedwell #apartmentgoals #decorideas #myeclectichome #apartmenttherapy #ebayeverything #topstylefiles #interiordesire #interiordetails #homedetails #houseenvy #homereno #homedecorideas #myhomevibe #myhousebeautiful #midcenturymodern #interiormilk #interiorwarrior

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“We said a few things online,” she says, “and it got such an overwhelming response of people going ‘Yeah, I hate it.’ And we were like, ‘Oh! A lot of people find it really hard.’ So we sort of said, let's do something.”

Off the back of this simple interaction, Robyn and Emma decided to start a movement for those struggling through “celebration days”: Other’s Day, a day for people dealing with bereavement to voice their pain when they’re drowning in reminders of their lost loved one.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

MOTHER’S DAY // it isn’t always happy for those around us... today I spent the morning at the cemetery with my mum wondering what we’d actually be doing if she’d been here! These days at least, I am lucky enough to celebrate being a mum, giving this day a sense of happy again! All that I am + hope to be; I owe to you Mum + my god do I miss you! #mothersday #mymotherhood #happyothersday #motheringwithoutamother #othersday #welivelikethis #parentfolk #wedolifetogether #lifewithoutmum #mymum #childbereavement #breastcancerawareness #dealingwithloss #lifewithoutyou #herredrow #redrowcanterbury #haveyouseenherhouse #welivelikethis #insidemyhome #myhouzz #spotlightonmyhome #interiorsupnorth #instahome #interiors #interior123 #designsponge #interiormilk #hygge #discoverunder20k @photoboxuk canvas

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The response to this idea was overwhelming. Focusing the campaign on Instagram – a platform that is unfriendly to sharing other people’s content – and with only a couple of days of promotion before the day itself, Robyn and Emma had over a thousand people posting using the #OthersDay hashtag. Messages emerged from across the word, sharing stories of lost mothers and other forms of maternal grief.

Like Robyn, many people used the hashtag to share stories about estranged parents or the loss of a parent figure. Robyn tells me she saw posts about people who had lost their children – celebrating Mother’s Day after losing the child that made them a mother in the first place. There were stories about IVF, people tackling parenthood after losing their own parents, people who couldn’t have children or had miscarried, and simple stories of how Other’s Day had given them space to speak about their grief in public for the very first time.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"The devil finds work for idle hands." Now if you know me, you'll know that I'm not religious in any way whats so ever... apologies for the wasted hours at Sunday School to the old dears at St Mary's, it just didn't take. This old proverb though, it speaks to me, and that little devil is grief. . Mother's day is always going to be bittersweet now, so I, as I do most days, just try to keep moving. Of course, having Evelyn and Penny helps. They're a great distraction, but sometimes you just need to not be doing the "Mum" routine. Here's how today has gone for me. . After an 8am lie in...lets face it though, the clocks changed so i was cheated out of that one, I was given lovely gifts and cuddles by the girls and made a bacon sandwich by Ian. We then took the dog out on a nice long walk through the woods and into the park. Headed home, and cleared out the car of all the detritus that accumulates when you have kids. 1000 crisp packets, 200 dry felt tips and a zoo of soft toys later, and we headed out for lunch with Ian's mum and sister. Somehow, and I still don't know how this happened, both kids had a nap in the restaurant. . Back home, and I decided that this would be an appropriate time to do a monumental poo pick on the garden (from the dog, obviously), followed by a really bloody hard run, made worse by a belly full of pop and cajun chicken from lunch. All of these things were done as a way of keeping moving. Don't stop and dwell, just keep moving. I'm perfectly aware that this is probably not the best way of dealing with the day, but its my way. If I stop, the sadness will catch up with me, and I don't like to remember Pippa with sadness in my heart. I like to try and keep the joy for her. So tonight, I'm going to keep my hands moving, and get to making things that will hopefully bring some other people some joy. . I hope all the other mama's out there, however you identify yourselves, have found the day to be kind and gentle. . #mothersday #othersday #lifeafterloss #babyloss #carryyouinmyheart #achingarms #griefjourney

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This enormous response, on just a single day, made Robyn and Emma think this could be something bigger, and have since become dedicated to making Other’s Day a movement that aims to support anyone struggling with loss. Ahead of Father’s Day their interiors blog, allupinmyspace.com, is now focused on covering Other’s Day issues, interviewing people about death, estrangement, and allowing them to share their stories that they’ve never had a space for before.

“There are a lot of these celebration days, and it’s so hard for people because it's just making you remember what you don’t have. And that doesn’t mean you feel negative that everyone else has got it. But it's still a really tough day.”

Robyn tells me, though, that it’s “not all doom and gloom.” She says that they also want people to use Other’s Day to take the time to highlight the good relationships they have in their life – sharing stories from new parents, or parents who’d struggled with miscarriages and have managed to conceive, as well as people remembering happy memories of the person they lost.

Robyn and Emma tell me that they see Others Day as becoming a global movement to help all bereaved people, both on and offline.

“[We want to] have events where people can come and get together if they feel like they want attention on that day or they feel that they need one-on-one support from other people who are in that situation,” Emma says. “[We want them to feel like] there's a space for them to do that physically as well as online.”

“We're not there yet. But maybe one day.”

On Sunday, you can share your story of bereavement or estrangement using the hashtag #OthersDay.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.