I’m going to write about death and social networking. Within the last year I’ve lost three friends to cancer. This really sucks. I know death is inevitable, but I don’t have to like any aspect of it. Since they saw death coming they all “made a good end” as Ophelia says. They had bucket lists and the ability to do most of the things on them. They had parties to celebrate their lives, their friends, families and their children. There was music, art and poetry. One chose assisted suicide, the other two had access to good hospice drugs so, as far as we can tell from the outside, physical suffering wasn’t an issue at the end. This, of course, is different from the profound and horrific suffering that has accompanied death through most of time and place on our planet. Despite these good ends, I still hate the huge gaping hole that is left when they are gone, not to mention the stunning reminder of my own mortality and the fragility of all the lives around me that I love.
So I turn to facebook.
I notice an interesting thing begins to happen. The facebook page of a dead person seems to go through a consistent transformation. First it becomes a digital gathering place for people to leave condolences for the bereaved. After some time has passed, posts transition to statements of praise and appreciation for the person who has passed. After still more time passes posts begin to be addressed directly to the dead: “found a picture of us…,” “went to such a place where we…,” “was singing a song and thought of you…” Five months after one friend had passed he had accepted the friend requests of over forty new people! Finally, I have noticed that people are posting as if the dead person were still in communication – birthday greetings, events “Visiting the coast. Wish you were here.” “Hope things are going well for you in your new life. Bet you are putting on quite a show up there!”
The way we communicate has changed radically in the last ten years, but we are still tribal creatures. We sit at computer screens in the gathering dark of an awesome, terrifying universe. As a globe we each huddled around our flame in this digital community fire, while an invisible host of the living and the dead sits at our elbow.