Death and Social Media

Dancing with Grandparents

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write a condolence on someone’s Facebook wall. It seems so impersonal. Shouldn’t death be treated with honor and privacy?

Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. in my view have changed the world for the better. Yes there are a few hoaxes, for example, ‘Gay Girl In Damascus,’ but what Facebook and Twitter give to us is the ability to share common, everyday, immediate information. Real-life. Yes, I tend to use Twitter to vent, but it has many other more favorable capabilities.

When my 95-year-old grandfather, Gramps, passed away this past March, I change my Facebook profile photo. It was the above photo of Kevin and I dancing with him and Grandma on our surprise wedding day. It’s my favorite photo of the two of them. I loved him (and Grandma) so much, and seeing a pack of Juicy Fruit gum will always bring a smile to my face.

Our community suffered a great loss this past week. The 20-year-old son of a very well liked, well-known family died. He left behind his parents, a younger brother, two younger sisters, and a very large extended family.

His father is Rebecca’s favorite teacher of all time, and the older of the two sisters is on Grace’s volleyball team. Both Rebecca and Grace have always talked about how wonderful and kind she, the sister, is. They both really like her.

The mentions on Facebook came slow at first. I’m sure everyone was in shock, and I know that everyone wanted to do whatever was possible to help the family during those first moments.

I’ll admit that two nights later, I searched for the deceased’s Facebook page. There was an endless outpour from friends. He touched so many lives. I felt like a stalker, but it gave me a sense of reassurance seeing first-hand how beautifully he was being honored.

A few days prior to the death, a friend’s mother passed away. She was too young, but it wasn’t a surprise because she was battling cancer. The messages on her wall were beautiful as well. They were packed with memories and photos from loved ones.

Facebook seemed too impersonal to be included with death, but I’m beginning to see how it has become an acceptable form of support for the loved ones. Even meaningful.

Last year when my friend Ken passed away unexpectedly, I found reading the wall posts left for him were very moving. Friends of his that I never knew had such wonderful memories of him. It was a beautiful way to honor his life. His daughters wrote the most moving messages. I went to his site months later and found many messages from his two daughters telling him how much he was missed.

Just two months ago when a good friend’s husband died unexpectedly, I wanted her to know I was there for her. I knew her family was with her, and I knew family and friends from out of town where with her. I always try to not be a bother or in the way, and I’ll admit I never want to say anything wrong. Because of this, I find it easier not to say anything. I know, I get scared and I’m a chicken. The best way for me to tell her how sorry I was for her loss was to direct message her. She replied immediately.

Kevin and I attended her husband’s memorial service, which I have to say was one of the most beautiful, nonconformist, and moving services. Lately, I apologized to her for not greeting her face-to-face after the service. She was so busy talking to friends and family, and I knew I’d be there for her later. She told me that she was glad I didn’t because it became overwhelming for her. I hope she knows I’m still here for her, even at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. Whenever she needs to talk.

Yesterday, we attended the 20-year-old’s memorial service. It was beyond moving. The love and strength from his family cannot be measured. He sounded like an amazing kid, and I am so sorry I never had the opportunity to meet him. I am so fortunate that I have had the opportunity to get to know his family. They are amazing, and I will pray that they will have the strength to find peace.

Yes, I went to Facebook to read the updates after the service. Everyone was moved. Many were moved in the same way. Many were moved in different ways, but everyone wants to help the family in anyway possible. Facebook has unlocked the exchange. Thank you Mr. Zuckerberg and/or the Winklevi Twins – whoever…

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