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What Dean Eastmond's Death Can Teach Us All About The Power Of Silence On Social Media

04/09/2017 12:27 BST | Updated 04/09/2017 12:27 BST

Sunday morning saw the passing of one of the most crucial LGBTIQ activists of our time - at just 21 years old.

But what does social media's reaction to Dean's passing teach us about his legacy and the power of silence when showing respect following a death?

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Thousands took to social media Sunday morning to send messages of grief and RIP

Dean had a beautiful, rare ability to grow an audience, and hold their attention with his writing for just about enough time in our digital age to tell them stories. His story became that of his own 2 years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer - fearlessly raising awareness for not only young people going through treatment, but also LGBT people specifically, changing diversity policies in the process.

It was how I first got to meet Dean - online - chatting with him on Twitter about his activism and how he wanted our organisation (Shape History) to help him amplify his message. But Dean became so ill that he was unable to take on any additional projects, as he was already editing and running a successful magazine business, HisKind, whilst traveling across the Atlantic and back for treatment.

So when Dean got the news that he was very unlikely to get better, our team decided to do the campaign he wanted anyway, and surprise him in Trafalgar Square with a secret message from his family and friends, streamed infront of 10,000 people. It was a moment I'll remember forever.

Fast forward to this weekend, Dean's Twitter feeds remained as frequent as ever, with Retweets from high-profile well-wishers such as Nicole Scherzinger and Dua Lipa, and his own thoughts and feelings about the progress of his care. His parents were even tweeting for him during his last week alive.

But nothing could prepare me for the news Sunday morning - it was like a punch to the stomach. In one hand I was relieved because my friend's pain was finally over - but in the other I couldn't believe he had finally passed.

The first thing I did was look online, at Twitter, which resembled when a high-profile celebrity passes away and people rush to social media to share their feelings. But unlike in those moments where the messages bring comfort, for some strange reason in those first few moments of grief - their messages only made me angry. For me, out of respect for a friend, there needed to be that time of silence - of respect, that time when you realise your voice isn't the one that matters.

I then spent the rest of the day thinking. Was I wrong to be angry at those expressing their sorrow in whatever way they feel comfortable; in what now has become the most widely adopted way in our digital world of marking respect following a death?

Dean's lesson, aside from so many other things, was that your voice; your single, deeply personal experience, has the ability to be used to comfort, to inspire and to bring about other's happiness. Above all - Dean taught us that each of our voices - most importantly - are valid. Censoring sorrow and grief therefore did nothing but cause more hurt for me. It was then I realised the way I was feeling stemmed most likely from seeing unbearable silence in the one place I really didn't want to find it - Dean's own social feeds.

He was a young man who's words should never have been cut short - for what he had to say changed the lives of thousands. So if you want to look for Dean's legacy, look no further than the platform he used his entire life to inspire others - Twitter. You'll find his own timeline, although now quiet, holding the memories of his journey - but you'll also find the messages and inspirations of others - speaking in Dean's name - the brave stories of people telling you their truth and what his life meant to them.

I can think of no better tribute to Dean than that.

Write boldly and unashamedly - it's the only way you touch hearts and change minds. Thank you for teaching me this Dean.

I will forever miss you my friend.