Monday, July 18, 2011

Death and Facebook

I know that at my age I experience more and more death around me each year.  It’s just part of the process.  This last year has been interesting though, as Facebook has exposed me to death and dying in a new way.

Last fall, one of my college professors died and I fell apart.  The news hit our circle of friends within several hours of his death and soon there was a group for people who knew him well to come together; talking and writing about the ways they had interacted with him and been changed by him over the years.  While many of them attended his funeral in Cedar Rapids, we were having our own Memorial Service worldwide every day on Facebook. 

I experienced overwhelming grief during that time.  If I had simply heard the news that he had died, days or weeks after the event, I doubt my grief would have been so intense.  I would have processed the information, maybe spent some time grieving and moved on.  But, because I was relationally attached to others that were traveling through the same experience, I continued to process on my relationship with him and the intense loss that was felt because of his death.

Several months later, another friend from college died and I discovered it by seeing a friend post a Rest in Peace message on his wall.  Once again the community of friends that knew him came together to grieve over the loss of a friend and relationship that had been strong nearly 30 years ago.

Today many of my high school friends are walking together down the path of yet another friend’s imminent death.  One of our class members is with him daily, caring for him as a friend and the two of them are posting stories and encouragement for others as they travel this path. I am again sometimes overwhelmed by the grief that wells up within me while watching this process unfold. 

Facebook has exposed us all to many things as we reconnect with old friends and make new friends, but I woke in the middle of the night last night thinking about how it has changed the way we interact with each other in the grieving process. 

When my mother died, the outpouring of caring and affection was intense, but the grieving process was done in a pretty small space.  There were only a few of us that walked that road together for an extended period of time, before, during and after her death.  With our networks expanded over the internet, the number of people that offer support, love and comfort has grown exponentially!

I believe Facebook has done us a real favor by expanding our relationships and communities beyond the borders of towns and the small friendship circles we build.  We are learning how to care for each other on a larger scale, no longer limited by geography.

It doesn’t make it any easier for us to experience death, but it is so much more apparent that we are not alone and our friends care for us deeply, no matter the years or the distance.