in honor of my dear friend Ruthie, who died this morning at home, surrounded by her large extended family, after a year-long fight against stage 4 metastatic breast cancer
Where we used to send cards and flowers, grief has a new life on social media. When a student at my university passes, there’s a flood of tweets about that person, complete with memories and photos (and a stream of accusatory “you didn’t even know him/her” replies).
How do we know people, in this electronic age? If we never meet in real life but we’ve been chatting online for three years, do we get to claim friendship and a space at the virtual grieving table? I think so.
My friend’s Facebook wall today is a stream of condolences to her husband, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins, and grandchildren. Her relatives are sharing their disbelief and grief. People who knew her mention her constant good cheer, her giving spirit, the hole that will be left by her absence. They are her friends.
But individuals who only “knew” her on Twitter, as a diehard part of a particular fan army, are sharing their sympathy as well. Ruthie had 420 Twitter followers, many of whom may not have known she was even battling cancer. They still are extending condolences from other continents, as members of her extended online family. They have known her in this 2.0 forum since 2009. They are her friends, too.
It’s funny that someone shared this cartoon with me yesterday on Facebook:
It’s supposed to be funny. Facebook updates are a bunch of mundane say-nothings. Yet for the grandchildren who are too small to remember Ruthie–and for the great-great-grandchildren decades down the road–a snapshot of her Facebook wall will show exactly what TV shows, movies, and musicians she liked enough to click the “like” button for them. They might read one of the “25 Things About Me” memes that she completed. They will see the pictures of her, smiling and healthy, that people shared in her last weeks. They will see how most of her timeline was devoted to bragging about her family. They will see, in clear sentences, how much this woman meant to others.
Today, I’m grateful for social media and the mundane memories it can leave behind for grandchildren.
Love you, Ruthie!