Death and Facebook

facebook-256This isn’t a post about killing time, just want to get that out of the way right at the start.

Every morning, before I get out of bed, I turn on my iPhone and check my FitBit app to see how well I slept (I don’t know how accurate it is, but it interests me to see if my own perceptions of a restful or not night’s sleep have any basis in the physical), then check my email quickly, then go on Facebook and scroll through new stories that came in overnight. This morning, I saw a post from the son of one of my Facebook acquaintances, someone I knew very little about but whose posts I occasionally commented on. Her son was thanking everyone on Facebook for the support his mother received from us all in her final days. She had passed away the day before.

This was not an old woman, and the last thing I read from her haunts me. She said she was on oxygen, the fast-moving sarcoma was relentless, and that she probably had only days. And then, “Is this really all there is?”

It was a glimpse into dying that I have never had, that I avoid, that disturbs and terrifies me. Her question hung in the air, despite the hundreds of comments from concerned friends and acquaintances like me, saying meaningless things like “Courage!” “I’ll pray for you!” “You’re in my thoughts!”

But apparently they weren’t really meaningless. I imagine facing death is the loneliest thing in life. Most people, at best, have family around them. All too frequently I imagine people die alone. My mother did. But it was sudden, or I or my father at least would have tried to be there. That this woman could reach out to hundreds of people and ask for their thoughts and support when she was about to expire is nothing short of miraculous in its way. I doubt very much that Mark Zuckerberg thought about this consequence of what was initially a hookup app when he developed it.

A few of my other friends shared the sudden loss of their spouses on Facebook. Their pain and sadness, the love and concern that poured out from all their friends, some known to me, many not, touched me deeply.

Others have shared journeys through horrible illness that have so far had happier outcomes. A woman who had a heart transplant and is now going through rehab and all manner of other setbacks and steps forward is incredible. And although there are many who would think that these things are deeply personal and shouldn’t be shared with a wide public, many of whom are only known through what we choose to reveal of ourselves on Facebook, I can’t help seeing it as a great positive. A way we can connect across time zones and oceans, across generations and life choices.

I’m not saying that the dreaded FB isn’t, in fact, a time suck, a place where thoughtless memes are taken as fact and spread like the measles, where I go for my daily dose of adorable baby animal videos to take me away from whatever work I have to do. I’m just saying that it’s taken me to some very deep, personal places through bearing witness to the lives—and deaths—of others.

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