Facebook changes how we mourn

OPINION

(Bloomberg )
March 11, 2013|By Nikki Lynette, @nikkilynette | For RedEye

After hearing Facebook had altered the news feed yet again, I opened my phone's app to check it out. The first message I saw was from a girl I know: "My heart is super heavy, I just lost one of my best friends, Chad Dorsey."

"No, no, no," I said aloud as I grabbed my laptop to check out Chad's Facebook page. Sure enough, the telltale sign of a man's death already was there: The "RIP" posts and testimonials about how awesome Chad was had taken over his timeline. It was true. My homie had passed away. And I learned about it from Facebook.

When you were a kid, you'd never know that you and the girl you sat behind in class had lost a mutual acquaintance until you showed up to the funeral and saw each other there. Now, through the power of social media, the news travels faster than phone calls ever could. And even though finding out that kind of news online can be jarring, social networks make it so all of your friends can mourn together. It's almost like an online funeral.

Chad was a well-known guy, for his poetry, his career as a chef and his love of talking trash to other sports fans. He, like all of us, had a life online, so it only makes sense that he be mourned online, too.

There is no Internet service in the afterlife, but despite our lost loved ones being unable to check their Facebook pages, we write on their walls and dedicate long threads to talking about our memories of them anyway. It's crazy and nonsensical, but it's also kind of touching. Not only has social media changed the way humans live, it's also changed the way we die.

When I initially read the post about Chad passing away, I was angry. Not just because my friend was gone, but also because I learned about it online. It felt so ... impersonal! I had so many questions and nobody to answer them, and worst of all, despite having so little information, I had to call his lifelong friend who does not use Facebook and break the news. The unexpected loss of a loved one is always devastating, but to learn about it in the same way that you learn about a new Will.i.am single just feels wrong.

However, I quickly came to realize that he knew A LOT of people who I know ... but we never knew that when he was alive! And they all had such amazing things to say about him. So many people had taken the time to share their stories about my homie and to wish him a final farewell. It was sorta beautiful.

Death is a natural part of life. And now, so is social media. I guess it would be foolish to think that something that affects us so greatly—like losing a loved one—could ever remain separate from Facebook or Twitter. I mean, most people's deaths will never make headlines, so it's up to those affected by the loss to immortalize their loved ones' memories. Thanks to the Interwebs, that's easy to do.

Even though he's gone from our lives, Chad will live on forever in our hearts and in our Facebook friends list. It doesn't erase the pain of losing someone you love, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't help.

RedEye special contributor Nikki Lynette, a Chicago native, is an indie recording artist whose music appears on MTV, VH1, Showtime and more.

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