15/03/2017 08:17 SAST | Updated 15/03/2017 08:26 SAST

On Facebook And Death

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I saw a photo of you, posted by one of your friends. You were laughing, eyes closed, hair a bit disheveled. You looked beautiful and free and so much like yourself. As a caption, she listed some of your greatest qualities and reminisced about the times you'd had together. She ended by saying that she'd miss you dearly, but that you were in a better place.

A better place.

Part of me naively wanted to believe that you'd moved away to a farm in the countryside. For you, that would have been a better place.

Unfortunately, that isn't what people usually mean when they say that.

My head was spinning, and it was getting late. Underneath my denial, I knew the truth, and that was just too much to handle. I was lucky enough to have the luxury of ignoring it, for a while. At least long enough to fall asleep.

I turned off my computer.

In the middle of the night I woke up, confused about the aching sensation in my heart. Bit by bit, it came back to me. The photo. The description. The probability that you were gone.

It was the opposite of waking up from a nightmare and realizing that everything is actually fine.

I picked up my phone and saw that I was part of a group message with all of our mutual friends confirming that you had died, from "depression-related causes." Our friends were scattered around the world, but their words blurred together on my tiny phone screen as one collaborative expression of grief.

Without Facebook, would I have ever found out? I was haunted by another universe in which I went about my daily life, not knowing that yours had ended.

Memories of you came pouring out, the little moments of kindness and quirkiness that had made you who you were. I read through them, achingly being reminded of you, trying to make your absence feel real. I hadn't seen you in so long, what difference was it that you were gone from the world instead of from my life?

But it did. It made all the difference.

I couldn't reply just yet. I tried to go back to sleep, feeling both devastated and strangely empty.

The next day at work, my phone was constantly buzzing as people woke up around the world and found out about your death. Each message was an additional dagger in my heart. I couldn't focus on anything else. Truthfully, I wouldn't let myself.

Without Facebook, would I have ever found out? You were ages away, and we'd fallen out of touch, though I'd hoped that it wasn't permanent. I was haunted by another universe in which I went about my daily life, not knowing that yours had ended. It chilled me.

In the days that followed, I was glued to my phone, my computer, like the most irritating technology addict. You were being tagged in photos by friends I'd never heard of, each of whom had their personal eulogy. I read every single one.

All these memories and homages pulled together to create a fuller picture of you. You were someone who had always been there for her friends, no matter what. You were an exceptional cook. You felt things deeply. You loved your friends, your family, and your dog with all of your heart. You were an avid hiker who was more comfortable when surrounded by nature.

You were someone the world would miss.

I wish I'd told you of the impact you'd had on my life. It may not have changed your mind, but it would have made a difference. At least I'd be relieved of the weight of unspoken words.

We talked about depression and suicide openly, because we'd seen that silence can kill. I don't think any of us were ready to lose another friend, not like that.

You don't imagine it being too late until it is.

Neither I nor any of our friends could fix that with you, so we fixed it with each other. I don't know if I've ever received so many messages of love. We made it clear that we were there for each other. That we all mattered. That no matter how hard it got, there was love in the world we couldn't afford to leave behind.

We talked about depression and suicide openly, because we'd seen that silence can kill. I don't think any of us were ready to lose another friend, not like that.

We were going to take all the love you'd generated, and spread it all around, in hopes that it would make us feel less alone.

Every post about you brought tears to my eyes, but those tears were cleansing.

Without that, how would I have grieved? No one around me knew you except through my stories, and I wasn't about to flaunt my pain. Thanks to the internet, I saw that I wasn't alone in missing you, that a bunch of strangers were also grieving you. Though I never spoke to any of your family, childhood friends or colleagues, we were all united in an unspoken way.

This is the modern mourning process: typed out sentiments published for the world to see, pictures traveling the world with a simple click. We deal with our pain in a very public way, from the privacy of our homes.

I used to hate the idea of keeping someone's Facebook page alive after their death. It felt morbid and wrong. But since your death, I've changed my mind.

There's a corner of the internet that you dominate, even though you're gone from the physical world. There are photos, memories, and well-crafted words celebrating your life. This is how you were immortalized, in a digital monument a bunch of strangers created together, with the pieces of you we were left with.

Invisible lines uniting us in our grief. Coming together over you.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at

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