Can a front-page post on Reddit help someone cope with grief?

For redditor JMusto0223, the answer is yes—then no. His effort to seek comfort just brought him more sorrow.

Early Wednesday morning, JMusto0223’s five-year-old niece Madeline Musto, of Brownville, New York, died after being diagnosed with a rare brain tumor just five days ago. Madeline was a fun-loving girl who loved Hello Kitty, Barbie, and “all kinds of princess things,” wrote JMusto0223, a longtime redditor, in a post featuring a photo of the girl.

“I guess the reason why I posted it was more of an in loving memory of her and allowing her essence [to] touch the hearts of many more people,” wrote JMusto0223.

Responding to redditors who accused him of seeking to score points in Reddit’s voting system, he responded, “I could care less for karma points, this is part of how I’m grieving, by showing the world my beautiful niece in her prime.”

JMusto0223’s post reached the front page earlier today and has since collected more than 2,000 comments from people sharing their condolences and personal stories. Some Photoshop-savvy redditors even took time to add Madeline into images from the Disney film Tangled.

“Lost a daughter to aggressive brain cancer myself. I don't want to be at all presumptuous, but if you want grief resources, direction to other families to talk to, memorial ideas, or just to talk, you know where to find me,” commented devastatingwoundchan. “<3 to Madeline, look at that smile. Bet there was a lot of joy packaged into that kid.”

Posts like JMusto0223’s are a growing trend on Reddit, where dozens of people share their intimate stories of illness, death, and tragedy on a regular basis.

For example, about three months ago David Allen’s post about his four-year-old sons battle with cystic fibrosis reached the front page, where hundreds of people shared their support.

The same sort of positive outpouring also happened to a redditor named Karen after she posted one of the last known photos of her father, a renowned Chinese conductor, on the site. Following a performance about six months ago, Karen’s father, Jei Young, 53, collapsed backstage. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors determined that it was a heart attack. After taking her father off of life support, Karen turned to Reddit for comfort.

And yet for every real heartfelt story, there are hundreds of impostors playing on the heartstrings of the community to gain karma points, the site’s internal mechanism for rewarding quality submissions. As a result, every single post comes under considerable scrutiny. And in the case of JMusto0223’s post, redditors can go overboard.

In the thread, JMusto0223 now reports that he has people “stalking my family members (finding out [their] FB accounts), threatening to send my family harassment messages and calling my niece some heart-wrenching names,” he wrote.

He since removed his account’s name from the posting in an effort to make it more difficult for redditors to send him harassing messages.

Illustration by fecalmatter