My uncle died on a Saturday in the summer. I hadn’t seen him in 15 years, and we hadn’t talked in about seven. But we’d somehow reconnected on Facebook just months before he passed away.
I’ll always remember him as this jovial, weathered hippie — repulsed by conformity with his long ponytail and Indiana Jones garb.
He loved animals and spent most of his life helping them. And he loved the environment, too. But he had trouble holding a job, and he might not have been the best husband, at least, from the version American standards have concocted.
So he’d been estranged from my family since I was in grade school. In fact, the last physical memory I have of my uncle was him telling me about seeing Santa’s sleigh when I was 7 on a Christmas Eve.
Any other memory I had, minus the small and vague childhood ones I’d managed to scrape together in my subconscious, were somehow tainted by my family’s disgust for this “inadequate” human being.
But he was different, and I think I’d always recognized that and held onto it. He was a recluse, which I cherished in parts of myself. And he was forcefully driven by his creative endeavors. Unfortunately, he also had a very intimate relationship with cigarettes — which eventually killed him.
Right before he died, we’d made small plans to meet up when I’d be home for the holidays this year. I don’t know if I really believed it would ever happen, but talking about it made me excited. It seemed possible.
I didn’t know he was sick at the time, either — at least he didn’t say anything. That’s another reason his death came as such a shock.
I miss him. I miss, even more, the relationship I could have had with him as an adult. The not knowing is really overwhelming.
That’s why snooping on his Facebook has been so lethal for me. So endlessly time-consuming and toxic. So many pictures and posts opened a window to a person I’d never get to know more about.
Oftentimes his profile picture still pops up in my favorite friends box. And I know that’s ultimately a representation of who I’ve been looking at or what I’ve been clicking on. But it’s so morbid.
This is not a photo album. It’s someone’s social media presence… when they were alive. Their Facebook wall should not be a forum for us to post our grief. It’s disrespectful and disgusting. And it’s bad for people grieving — like me. It’s like eating candy laced with cyanide.
I mean, I guess it’s not all bad. The pessimist in me is just the kind to obsess over the possibilities of the past, and seeing the photos from the past haven’t been so helpful for that.
But seeing the posts from friends on his birthday — which was just last month — do make me happy. Knowing that despite the differences with my family, he was loved greatly even when he was living far away. The digital scrapbook of his life is a testament to that, I guess you could say — along with other blog posts and contributions he’s scattered across the Internet. And on the other hand, too, if it hadn’t been for social media, I wouldn’t have even gotten this chance to briefly reconnect with my uncle.
But my fears still remain the same: it’s that society is using social media as this impersonal crutch for dealing with death.
Yes. It’s nice to pretend our loved ones are “alive” in this online forum, but aren’t there other ways to venerate our dead? Things that are more involved, more private and more intimate?
Does acknowledging death online make the grief less harsh? And does sharing pictures of death — like a gravestone — make it less real or more bearable? I just don’t understand some people’s reactions.