Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Death And Facebook

I found out this week that former classmate, Anna Rodriguez, passed on last Monday after suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of twenty-six. I'd friended her on Facebook perhaps three weeks ago, although we were never particularly close--I would describe our real-life relationship as "friendly" rather than "friendship". Nonetheless I'm sad to see her go, and I'm particularly struck by the weirdness of the phenomenon of death on a social network.

Because it's not like your status changes to "dead" when you die. Rather, there's your profile showing you alive and intact while your wall and comments sections become a sort of memorial to you. It's a bit surreal, especially because it is completely unfiltered. You get remembrances with LOL-style abbreviations or typed in all caps. Anna's last status update was to say that she was "ready for a change". A few people commented on the irony of that being her final post--someone even commented that "GOD heard your plea and although we may not understand it, he made a change". I'm pretty sure that's not what Anna meant by "change", but I can appreciate the intent of the commenter, even if I find the result to be a wee bit tacky.

Moreover, this is the second social-networking-friend that I've lost in real life, and I'm wondering about protocol. What is the proper amount to time to wait, for instance, before "unfriending" the deceased? A month? Or should you just wait until the account is disabled for inactivity? After the inevitable "We Miss You" group arises, should you join? Should you remain a member indefinitely? Some people might actually need to cut their digital ties to the deceased as part of the grieving process, I would think.

These aren't terribly serious questions (although if someone knows definitive answers, I'd love to hear them) so much as musings on the way that social networking has changed our lives, and also, apparently, our deaths.

At any rate, farewell Annie Rodriguez. I will remember you fondly.


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