I’m not a straight-up Facebook hater. Its usefulness can’t be denied: sharing events, updating people on life’s happenings, promoting work-related causes, keeping up with family and friends I don’t get to see enough in person. But still, so many reasons to avoid Facebook: privacy issues, the inevitable ennui and envy, the temptation to use people’s reactions (or lack of) to a post as a form of self-measure, the distraction, the time suck… All valid and yet none include the best reason to avoid Facebook: People die.
Unlike earlier decades – which is not to say the good old days, just a different time – if someone you knew died, another human would have to find you or track you down by phone, a situation which brought with it a moment of warning: “I have some terrible news.” Of course this still happens to those closest to these very worst of moments, but for those not on the front lines, but who still care, greatly, instead of being in a shared space with another sympathetic (one hopes) human, the two of you able to turn yourselves over to grief, the news arrives as one more post in a sea of social media detritus.
And because we check Facebook when we’re bored or distracted, and because the nature of Facebook is to deliver posts one after the other without thought for continuity – Facebook is a terrible DJ – and maybe you’re sitting in a meeting and mentally checking out for a minute or wondering when some event is or remember today is someone’s birthday or – let’s face it – checking Facebook is simply a bad habit, one of so many, that you haven’t shaken, so you find yourself for whatever reason scrolling without pretense and that’s when it happens again.
Here’s a post about adorable dogs, here’s a post about an adorable kid, here’s a post about the shock of losing such a bright light or maybe the post is for a GoFundMe set up for the widow, which is how you learn she’s a widow, which is how you learned your friend died, or maybe the post is another photo of another adorable kid, only the caption is simply, “gone,” here’s a post asking for recommendations for a plumber or recipes or hiking in Ecuador or wait, what?
That bright light? That bright light that you know? That bright light with the big smile you recently emailed with because you wanted to visit Big Sur and then you couldn’t after all, but it was sweet to reconnect and hopefully next time. Except this post about shock and loss. And you look up and you are still in a meeting or in line at the grocery store or somewhere essentially alone despite being surrounded by people – the irony of social media – and you scroll back and yes, that post that was unlike the others made no sense, because how could it, but you understand that it is true.
And so instead of sharing tears over a phone call or falling into the arms of a friend, instead of grief being a thing binding you to another human, you are isolated, one part of your mind turning to the meeting, the dinner out, the whatever-it-is-you-are-obligated-to-in-real-time, while another part of your mind thinks no, how, what, no.
I very much want people I love, people who are loved by people I love, to stop dying. And when people are lost to us, I very much want that loss to stop the world for as long as needed to acknowledge it, to let the shock and pain spill freely from our hearts, to hold on to those close with full attention. I do not want the death of the too-young to be a thing sandwiched between – between anything. My heart is wrenched. We cannot live all versions of our life at once. To attempt to do so is to diminish the ones that matter most.