RIP: Facebook As Virtual Roadside Memorial

Chrissy’s status update disappeared from her page today.  You see, status updates disappear after 7 days.  Chrissy hadn’t updated her status in 7 days because she died last Friday morning.  Suddenly.  Unexpectedly.  After changing her profile picture to a cheesecake and her status update to:  “almost didn’t make it out of Newaygo. The GPS couldn’t figure out where it was! I tried to tell it. “You’re in 1972…”, Chrissy was never heard from again.  On October 21 at 9:06PM, Chrissy posted her last status update.  Ironically, her second from last status update was:  “has arrived at Cousin Lisa’s house. Oh yeah, this is going to be a FUN weekend!”  A few hours later she was gone.

This isn’t my first Facebook Friend to die this year.  I’ve unfortunately had a few.  But this one reminded me of the pattern I’ve seen now since my first Facebook Friend, and real-life great pal, Ken, died last November.

It starts with someone catching wind of someone’s passing.  Maybe they got a phone call or heard a rumor, or caught a Tweet.  They then immediately go to said person’s Facebook page to see if there has been any activity as of late.  When they don’t see any posts from the supposed deceased, they’ll write something on the wall like:  “Hey, Joe…tell me this isn’t true!  You’re okay, right?”  That then scrolls through the newsfeed of 500-and-some friends of the poster and gets picked up as if it were the AP wire transmitting a breaking story.  People catch on.  More people post on the wall.  And within a couple of hours everyone realizes that the Facebook rumors were true.  Their Facebook Friend is gone now.  Their page frozen in time.  What was once a reflection of their daily activities and mobile uploads now turns into a virtual roadside memorial.

The messages then evolve from “What happened?” to “RIP (name goes here).”  We talk to the deceased as if they’re going to sign on in 10 minutes and reply to us.  Like they did to check on their Happy Birthday messages.  And some people check in daily, updating the deceased on how the memorial went, what they ate for lunch today, how the gang of friends talked about him or her over drinks at the deceased’s favorite watering hole.  And they check back often, too.  Leaving messages on the week anniversary.  The month anniversary.  The deceased’s birthday.  Christmas.  The one-year anniversary.  Talking and talking as if – by some miracle – their Facebook Friend who has crossed to the other side will actually respond.

It’s cathartic, I guess.  When Ken died I, too, left him a few messages.  Some I deleted immediately after writing because I felt they were too personal to share with the world.  Some I posted on my own page thinking that perhaps the soul of Ken would be checking my Facebook page – you know – in between watching the Red Sox and playing a game of chess with St. Peter.  But he never responded.  So from that point forward I turned to talking to him in the dark of my room as I nodded off to sleep at night.  I felt it was more likely he’d be there than on Facebook.

The Friday before Ken died, I was the last person to post on his wall.  I think it was something like “Call me!”  We hadn’t talked in awhile and I just wanted to say hi.  That evening I called him on my way home from work and we had a great conversation.  We made plans to see one another later that week.  Tragically, one day later, I found myself trolling his Facebook page for answers, hoping that someone could verify whether my friend was alive or dead.  And I stared at my last post realizing that when I wrote it he was still with us and now…he was gone.

I’ve learned a couple of lessons from these memorial pages that I’d like to pass on to you.  One, always make sure you have a flattering profile picture.  And try to make your status updates interesting and thought provoking.  Because in the blink of an eye you could be gone.  And what you put up on that last day of your life, will be stuck up there forever.  Let’s face it, do you really want to be remembered by the photo of you chugging a beer bong at a frat house in 1984 for all eternity?  I didn’t think so.

I also highly recommend giving your Facebook username and password to a close friend for safe keeping.  So that – in the unfortunate instance of your untimely death – someone can monitor and clean up your page after you’re gone.  I’ve enlisted my friend Gina to man my page.  Instructing her to leave quippy status updates every so often so that you’ll all know I’m thinking of you from my new home.  I’m nothing if not thoughtful and organized.

And most important, don’t wait until someone dies to post something nice about them on their wall.  Tell your friends TODAY how much you love them and care about them.  Tell them how cool they are.  Let them know how pretty they look in their profile picture.  Laugh at something they say.  Just don’t wait until they’re gone.  I hear Internet access on the other side is a bitch.

As a final note, I’m not certain if there is Facebook in Heaven.  But I’m pretty sure that you can only get MySpace in Hell.

RIP Facebook Friends.  You’ll all be missed.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Miller says:

    Spot on Lisa. Thank you for your observations on this new way of grieving – via Facebook. It’s strangely comforting to visit the Facebook pages of the friends who have moved on and read what other friends have written on their walls. Internet hugs feel prtty darn wonderful, when you are dealing with an illness or trying to make sense of loss. This past month has a doozie, I have lost two dear friends, one cousin and a fellow comedienne (who I feel like I knew by virtue of our mutual friends & being in the same business). Leaving me feeling off balance, as the Heaven to Earth ratio of friends just got quite a bit heavier on the Heaven side. My heart is aching, but reading your post made me smile. Your humor and great big heart shine through in your writing. Thanks. xoxoxo Mary

  2. Ann says:

    Great blog Lisa, very eloquent!

  3. Tracey says:

    Brilliant post. I’ve experienced the same thing,, but never stopped to think about it. I also still visit a friend’s page every so often (her family maintains it because it as a gathering place for her friends).

    Back in the day, we could only bring flowers to the cemetery to remember…which usually served to be more depressing. I think a more meaningful memorial truly is revisiting someone’s Facebook page, and celebrating them, as you aptly said, “frozen in time”. And who knows…maybe they actually can read our posts in heaven.

    Thanks for the post…you always make me think.

  4. Leah Reid says:

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. My friend Yasmin’s last Facebook update was: “Danger!!! The girls and I are going out 2nite !”

    Several weeks later, I got one of those Facebook recommendations: “You haven’t connected with Yasmin in awhile,” or whatever they used to say. It just reminded me that she was gone.

    😦

    1. Lisa Goich-Andreadis says:

      Exactly, Leah. I find myself just staring at the words that they typed, perplexed as to how they were here one minute and gone the next. This social networking has brought a whole new social structure to many things we do in our lives.

      Sorry about your friend. 😦 It certainly is hard to lose someone.

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