The Watchman

The Watchman

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Death, Facebook and Media

I recently finished reading "Death by Facebook".  One of the plot lines utilized by author Everett Peacock was the announcement of a death on social media.  The presentation of the concept in this case dealt with family members first learning of the death of a loved one by reading it on Facebook and followed their subsequent reaction.  

I have read many tributes on Facebook written by friends regarding loved ones who have passed on.  These tributes are often more heartfelt and more personal than what is normally found in a newspaper obituary.  They allow the individual left behind to voice their feelings in a forum that allows for expression without the requirement for response.  It becomes a way for us to support one another and provide our strength and prayers to a friend in need no matter how near or far away we may be.  

I have a friend who has worked tirelessly to a create a tribute album to individuals who have passed on that were associated with our high school.  This has provided us a way to eulogize these individuals and remember the good times as a group.  

While I have not experienced the death of an immediate family member, I do know that our family was the recipient of this level of support and comfort when our house was destroyed.  Those immediate messages of support helped us get through the shock of those first days.  Then there were the continued messages checking in on us as we rebuilt.  It never failed that on the days that I felt the worst, someone would say something that would help me.

When I first pondered the idea of a parent learning that a child had died by reading it on Facebook, my reaction was that it could never happen.  Then I remembered that my cousin learned about our home on the ten o'clock news.  She had been travelling to Southern Utah to visit us, had arrived later than expected and had tried to reach us by phone after checking into her hotel.  When she couldn't reach us, she decided to go to bed and try again in the morning.  It was then that she turned on the news to see pictures and video of our home in flames.  

I have also had friends who have turned on the TV or gone online to learn of family members involved in accidents as the media hustles to provide "Breaking News".  In one extreme case, the media broadcast an image of the body bags lying on the side of the road next to the crumpled remains of the family car. The days of withholding information till next of kin has been notified are no more.  The need to be first and most sensational rule over compassion.

Now I have learned that there is an app that will allow an individual to compose their last words to be published to their Facebook page after they have died.  While the developer has tried to implement safeguards to prevent an accidental posting, I don't know enough about how the app works to know how effective these precautions will be.  Since I do believe that life continues beyond what we know here on Earth, I can't help but imagine the hurt that could be caused by such a posting, especially by someone who approached the app with a sense of flippancy or an attitude that it is just another Facebook game.  

While I can also see the peace that may be provided to those left behind, I would hope that I can live my life so that those I leave behind will know how I feel without needing to read it on the web.  Every morning as my children leave for school, I make sure to tell them that I love them.  My husband and I never go our separate ways without a kiss goodbye, even if it is just running up the street to get a gallon of milk.  I try to never end a phone call or a  online chat with a family member without saying I love you.  I try to let my friends know on a regular basis how much I appreciate the role they have in my life, whether in person or online.  I  have no great words of wisdom that I feel compelled to leave, but I hope to live a life that will leave the world in a better place.