Kaye Steinsapir was strapped into the front seat of an ambulance when her daughter was injured in the back. She took out her cell phone and started typing.
“Please. Please. Please,” she partially wrote. “Everyone is praying for my daughter Molly. She had an accident and brain trauma.” Later that day, she tweeted her message at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
Her 12-year-old daughter was injured while riding a bicycle with a friend near the family home in Los Angeles. Ms. Steinsapir, 43, said she was looking for a tool that would allow her to quickly get her request out to the broadest possible audience.
“I was so helpless,” she said in an interview on Thursday. “I just wanted to send to anyone who can lift Molly up in prayer and lift me up in prayer too.”
The hospital’s Covid-era rules initially prevented her and her husband, Jonathan Steinsapir, from being at Molly’s bedside together. On the first day of the hospital stay, Mr. Steinsapir spent the days at home with her two sons, while Ms. Steinsapir and her daughter stayed in the intensive care unit.
“In the hospital there were so many hours of waiting, waiting, waiting and nothing to do,” she said. In the darkest moments of panic or insecurity, she reached the Internet. “So many people have told stories of surviving after traumatic brain injury,” said Ms. Steinsapir, who is a lawyer, as does her husband.
“The hope that all these strangers gave us sustained us. If we hadn’t had that hope, I don’t know how we would have been able to do what we had to do to raise Molly and our boys, ”she said.
She didn’t have much experience on Twitter. Like many parents, she had shared family photos in a small circle on Facebook and Instagram, but in the months leading up to the last presidential election, she spent more time on Twitter, following news sources and politicians. She barely knew how to tweet.
When she turned to her phone to express her determination, fear, and fear, it never occurred to her that she would start a 16-day conversation between thousands of strangers from around the world about life, death, family, religion and ritual .
Alana Nichols, a doctor and attorney in Birmingham, Ala., Checked in with Ms. Steinsapir every day. “As a mother, I was drawn to her vulnerability and strength, and how she managed to make Twitter a positive vehicle of connection and hope,” she said.
This year, according to Dr. Nichols, the elections, the reactions to the recent Black Lives Matter movement, and the pandemic have made the internet a marketplace for anger and vitriol.
“Social media can be so toxic and the doom-scrolling phenomenon can take you to this place of utter helplessness,” she said. “But Kaye gave us a way to help. She told us we could pray for her and her daughter. Our nation is divided over everything that is happening, and here you have another tragedy – but it has had the opposite effect. “
The coronavirus pandemic has brought Americans to the colliding forces of isolation and grief, and technology and social media are further embroiled in the rituals of death. Covid farewells are routinely adopted via FaceTime, with hospital staff using phones and tablets to help family members approximate the bedside vigils and final goodbyes.
Broadway actor Nick Cordero contracted coronavirus in March and was hospitalized for months before dying in July. Amanda Kloots, his wife, attracted a global online audience of millions who prayed, sang, raised, and ultimately mourned with her. “I just wanted to share because it’s important to talk about grief, especially at a time when many people are suffering from loss,” she said on a video.
Later last year, model and actress Chrissy Teigen created a national dialogue on the comfort of our culture with the public exchange of death and tragedy when she posted hospital photos on Instagram of her, her husband John Legend and their premature baby Jack were and died.
“I cannot express how little I care that you hate the photos,” Ms. Teigen wrote in an essay later that month. “How little I care that you didn’t do that. I lived it, I chose it, and most importantly, these photos are not intended for anyone except the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them. “
Laurie Kilmartin, a writer for “Conan,” tweeted her mother’s last days live before she died of coronavirus in June. Ms. Kilmartin tweeted about her father’s worsening and death from lung cancer in 2014 and felt even more stimulated when her mother was dying due to the combination of sadness and isolation. “What is so terrible about Covid is that you are completely alone,” she said. “All you have is your cell phone.”
Ms. Kilmartin followed Ms. Steinsapir’s story on Twitter and understood from her own experiences a desire to share in real time. “In a normal situation, 20 family members would turn to support her and her husband,” Ms. Kilmartin said. “I’m glad she had the internet to hold her hand.”
Ms. Steinsapir also explained to her followers why she admitted strangers to the experience. “Writing and sharing my pain helps relieve it,” she wrote. “When I sit here in this sterile room hour after hour, I feel less alone because of your messages of hope. Even my husband, who is very private, likes to read them. “
In a short diary, Ms. Steinsapir bluntly described the realities of a medical crisis characterized by endless hours of waiting for her daughter to wake up, to which a sudden misfortune struck.
She praised her daughter’s doctors and nurses, worried about her two young sons, Nate and Eli, and shared everything on the internet about her daughter, an environmentalist and animal lover who decided to become a vegetarian before she went to Judaism and kindergarten Feminism (she used “she / her” pronouns for God) and who dreamed of being a stage actress and a politician.
Like Ms. Teigen, Ms. Steinsapir pushed back against people who criticized her. “Believe me, I wish I were anything but desperate to beg prayers to save my daughter on Twitter,” she replied.
But mostly she called for support through prayers. The focus on God was part of what led Melissa Jones, a mother in Locust Grove, Georgia, to read every tweet and reply, and even make friends with others who followed closely.
“The belief that struck me,” said Ms. Jones, who wept as she talked about a family she loved. “The internet is a terrible place right now, the Trump years have been very divisive and people have been just so ugly for the past four years, but Molly’s spirit expressed the faith and goodness of the people.”
Ms. Jones had also had the opportunity to lose a child when her son was seriously injured. “My son was in a coma for 11 days and I had the experience of asking myself, ‘Will my child wake up and will I have her back? I knew exactly where Kaye was, ”she said.
On February 15, Ms. Steinsapir announced that Molly had died.
“While our hearts are broken in a way that feels like they can never be healed, we console ourselves with the knowledge that Molly’s 12 years have been full of love and joy. We are very blessed to be their parents, ”she wrote.
She agreed to speak to a reporter amid her family’s grief, she said, because Molly wants her to comfort the millions of Americans who have lost loved ones in the past year.
“I want to let people know that we honor everyone who is in mourning and share with them the light and love Molly was shown,” she said.