Death in the Age of Facebook

My friend Adam died yesterday. He was living in Florida, on a boat (sometimes, I think), and filled my feed with smiling pictures of good times with friends and his nieces and nephews all hugging their uncle Adam. He was a frequent poster and lover of life.

I hadn’t seen Adam in at least five years, maybe more. He was a huge guy with crazy, long curly hair and a big beard. He resembled Hacksaw Jim Duggan but was the biggest walking bearhug you’d ever know. He got up early and worked hard, so hard that he often dozed off while sitting at a loud bar, prompting many a bartender to cut him off without realizing he was just on his 22nd hour of activity. He moved from Chicago to Florida to be near friends and family, and we were all happy for him when he went.

Adam seemed to have lots of friends but struggled with the ladies, I think it’s fair to say. He messaged me a few times to get the female perspective in his life. It was a frequent situation for him, feeling like he was getting the shaft from friends and women. Amidst all the goofy photos and cute moments, I think he was a little sad too. But who isn’t, right?

Today, I saw a relative of his tag him in a post. I read further and realized what it said: Adam was gone. What followed that post was an almost instantaneous collection of about 75 comments expressing sadness, shock, sympathy, and buried within, only a few who dared to ask what happened. A question that as of now, two hours after the initial message, hasn’t yet been answered.

Mutual friends are posting photos of him and writing notes about their sadness, a few others comment and ask why, still no answer. When enough time goes by without one a cause, a picture will  being to form which will lead many to guess. Eventually, I found myself tweeting the following while expressing the same wish to Dylan:

“A request to my pals: When I die, please don’t put it on Facebook until it’s been like, a month.”

I get that we now have a cultural means and need to share information the second we have it. I know there will always people who just cannot resist the urge to comment on a cliffhanger or spoiler minutes after it airs. Birthdays, engagements, first days at school, first poops, it’s all out there for the world to see and if you don’t have Facebook, you run a very real chance of missing out on such news. But then, when tragedy strikes, people turn to the same outlet as everyone else does for joy and then paradoxically, completely hold back details. As natural as it is to want to share news immediately, it’s just as natural to want answers when that news doesn’t make sense.

Not everything is up for public consumption nor should it be, but if you choose to put something as immense and impactful as a death notice on Facebook (as tacky as that can be) I can’t help but feel like it should be targeted or at least be prepared to answer inevitable questions. Does that sound entitled or disrespectful? I don’t mean it to, certainly. Facebook didn’t exist when my dad passed or I’m sure I’d have posted something about it there too. I’d like to think I’d have waited a while, and his passing from cancer wasn’t sudden news to have to break to people, but it is still a very personal thing to allow 400 friends and 500 of their friends, to take part in. Sudden death, I can only imagine, is such a shock that I’m sure things are said publicly without having time to process a second of any of it.

Adam’s friends have made at least 10 posts so far, and counting. One friend has expressed sorrow in every one of them, I myself haven’t contributed any words. I sent a message to his sister who made the initial announcement, but I’m leaving it at that.

I remember about 10 years ago or so, a friend died in a drunk driving wreck on Christmas eve. My best friend texted to tell me it had happened and at the time, I was so irate that she chose to tell me in text that I barely responded to her. Today? I immediately texted a different friend when I read about Adam. Times change, electronic billboards and broadcasts are the norm, but I’m just not there yet.

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