“If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.” The Crow (1994)
Eighteen months ago a good friend of mine, Dave, died. It wasn’t a sudden, unexpected death that often is the case with young people. He was diagnosed with Heptocellular Fibrolamella Carcinoma (a very rare type of cancer) in June 2008. In August 2009, the prognosis was vague because of the rareness of his particular cancer. All the doctors could say at the time was that he could have one to ten years!! Dave, in fact, lived for 6 more months and died peacefully in his home, with his loving wife by his side.
None the less, it still came as a shock when I got the phone call that he had passed on. In my heart I really believed that he would not die. Did not want to believe it, more likely. Denial is a very powerful weapon.
This post is not, however, about my grief over the ensuing eighteen months. About my dear friend’s absolutely broken heart and soul at the loss of her love, or about how my son started sleeping with a picture of our departed baby-sitter extraordinaire by his pillow for about 6 months.
This post is about the unusual phenomenon that generations before us have never had to deal with- a digital haunting.
Dave was an avid user of social-networks. Twitter and Facebook amongst his favourites. I guess when you are chronically ill, as he was, these two particular forms are excellent outlets and a way to stay in touch with friends when you are otherwise physically impaired.
But what you don’t really think about is what happens when someone dies. Sure, there won’t be anymore status updates, but they don’t disappear from your “Friends”, “Following” or “Followers” lists. When you log into Gmail, they are still on your chat contact list, but they are never “available”. So many times I have stared at the chat list and willed his name to suddenly become available to chat.
In some cruel twist of technological bugs, every now and then my iPhone Twitter app (which will remain un-named) tells me that I have unread DMs from him. I open them up excitedly to see they are messages I have already read. One is dated two weeks before his death…my last “conversation” with him. We talked about what I would name my second child that at the time I was 7 months pregnant with. Facebook also sometimes suggests that I should “reconnect” with him. Ha! I wish!
It’s not all heart-break. I love it when I look through old Facebook photos and come across his comments. His wry humour. I can hear him speaking out loud when I read them.
His Facebook page is still active. His wife changed the title to include “Memorial”. It is a place where people come to talk to him. Little messages about movies they’d just watched and know he would love. About how much they miss him. Just to say hello.
This is my digital haunting. It isn’t really a bad thing, I guess.
What kind of makes it funny is that when Dave was planning his goodbye speech at the all boys high school he taught at, he said he was going to tell the boys that he would come back and haunt them. So cheeky!! I would have laughed my ass off. I don’t know if he ever went through with that part of the speech, but I know that many of his students, also considered his friends, are probably in the same boat as me- forever digitally connected to a great man. Happily haunted.