When Your Dead Friends Come Back

The dead are here, they never go away
So I never ask them to…

–Hiss Golden Messenger  “Mahogany Dread”

It all started with self-promotion.

I was considering the best way to promote my blog. There’s only so much organic attention that you can garner when you throw your blog out into the cyberverse, so if you feel like you have something (relatively) important to say, it’s important to market yourself.

I decided to follow the lead of a few of my friends who are successful bloggers and put together an official Facebook page for my blog. After finding the best tone-setting pictures, settling on a little bit of verbiage, and adjusting my setting to maximize my footprint among my current and potential Facebook audience.

I was left with only one step–inviting my friends. I clicked on the link to do so and rather absent-mindedly began sending invites to all of the folks I grew up with, went to college with, have worked with, or have met in the various places I’ve lived or traveled to as an adult.

Not even a second after I clicked on the “invite” for one high school friend, it hit me how absent-mindedly I was sending these invites.

The cancer had won. Just a couple of years ago.

I felt horrible. Since his death, a number of loved ones had continued to post on his wall. I wondered if there was someone else still administering the account. Would they have noticed my little self-promotional push? Are they someone who knows me, someone who would think it crude to try to invite my dead childhood friend to like my blog? Would they think I was someone who hadn’t paid close enough attention to know that he died? Would they consider me a Facebook “Friend” in title only?

I considered sending a message about how I went to see Goonies with him when it first came out and how my mom was not happy with the language the characters used, about some inside jokes, about how I was sorry to lose touch, how the check-in message I sent a few weeks before he died never felt adequate, but I wondered if it would just spin in the nothingness that is a dead person’s mailbox, and thought better of it.

So I continued to click through, and I remembered–he wasn’t the only one. Addiction, accidents, an undetected health concern. More cancer.

And yet they remain. At least on Facebook. I paid more attention as I made my way through the profiles. I visited their pages. I am not the only one. Others, often in deep grief, continue to visit, typing the things they would likely sob while at the foot of a gravestone. There’s a sense of connection in the things they write–there’s a “You” they all still address–out there, somewhere/somehow, and yet still here on the screen.

It is something to behold–these digital gestures, these words repeated or finally spoken after being brushed aside before it’s too late. A simultaneous record of grief and of life.

I’ve long been fascinated by the ways our religious traditions over the centuries have emerged and evolved. Whether expressed as a longing for the resurrection of the dead or an assurance that one will pass through this world in another life, there’s something that stands alongside the mystery to death: the need to hold on.

No matter what we learn about biology and brain chemistry, no matter the limits of metaphysics, no matter what else we discover or put behind us, no matter if we trust the words of traditions we often repeat mindlessly or not–we all long to hold that which we have lost.

These pages of the departed feel sacred to me, as if they are the digital urns of those who have gone before but whose remains–coded not cremated–stay here for those of us who need them to hold, if only with our eyes and a clicking finger.

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