Saturday, December 11, 2010

When someone dies….

This week someone I knew died. I heard about her death on my Facebook newsfeed in the form of the many condolences sent to her husband. She was young, thirty-two. I read all the messages and while doing so wondered if her profile page was still up. It seemed surreal that it might be, existing still in cyberspace, immune to real life events, as if this was just another ordinary day. I was a bit suspicious of my motives before bringing up her page. It seemed a morbid kind of curiosity working within me. I expected her page to be like a dark abandoned house at night – a place of cold draughts entering through broken windows, foreboding creaks and hollow echoes in its frame, eerie shadows moving over walls. I was prepared to be weirded out.   

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Her page was radiant with love and light. There were about two hundred messages addressed to her ghost, there were songs, poems, memories and thanks. Before Alba had died as a brutal startling fact; now after spending time on her profile page she died as a living ongoing feeling – she was brought back to life as an abiding memory – the purpose surely of every funeral service. There was a desire for her to read all the tributes addressed to her. It came as a shock how much deep feeling, how much sorrowful poetry was produced by a Facebook profile, as if it were a kind of casket full of poignant mementoes of Alba’s life. 


  1. How lovely although sad at the same time. Thirty two is no age - not that age matters when you lose someone you love or know.
    I had a similar thing with a friend of mine who died very suddenly just over a year ago. I went to her Twitter and FaceBook pages with trepidation to find others had done the same too. We all united in our grief and left messages to her.
    I am sure they see what we do and it is a lovely testament to their being that we feel this way - even if it is someone we only met through cyber space - they touched our hearts and it is good to be able to remember them and share our thoughts in this way as it helps us to heal in our loss and the words we express will also undoubtedly bring comfort to her family.

  2. A poignant piece, Glenn. It is surreal how much of our online selves we'll leave behind in this odd virtual world - I always feel this when I see Martin Horton's profile on Authonomy, still there, still being asked for return reads - last online 558 days ago. He died a couple of days after that and yet visitors to his page talk to him as though he's still there, still might come back online and back their book.

    And I often wonder whether I want myself left online like that, or whether we all need someone who can log in and delete us... I've still never reached a conclusion.

    But for those who knew a person - especially when only as an online presence - I think it's probably comforting to have somewhere they can post the feelings they are otherwise unable to articulate in a real setting.

  3. Thanks Glenn.

    Another good side to this technology at a time like this is that I'm alone here in Tirana with the grieving family. Their tradition is that the relatives sit in the house until the first Sunday while guests come to pay their respects. The men in one room (apartment in our case), the women in another, for five days. It's very emotional and very cathartic. It's also all in Albanian.

    Facebook, Email and the cellphone have been very useful for me to have contact with friends and family from the outside Albania. Reddit too, as I had posted there a couple of times about my situation, the comments of strangers had me in tears. For some of us who spent a fair amount of time online it's only logical that we can find solace and comfort there.

    On the other hand, after seeing the Albanian system of gathering together and crying and laughing for days, I have to admit theirs is better.

  4. I should mention too that her Facebook page is checked every evening by the family, who would have no other way of seeing the messages from around the world.

    Her mother especially loves seeing all the tributes and condolences in the myriad of languages from the people who passed through Alba's life.

    (She was 31 by the way, not 32)