Monday, May 16, 2011

When virtual friends die.

I could write a lengthy blog post about my reaction when I read this post by a blogger who is grieving the loss of a member of her online community, but I don't think I need to, because I suspect all of you will have exactly the same reactions and feelings I did upon reading it.

The saddest part of the story is what this fine man kept private about his circumstances; and the wrenching sadness of friends who would have and could have done so, so much more to ensure his comfort - if only they had known.

Many years ago, I joined a snail-mail pen pal service. I replied to an ad that amused me a great deal. I remember it today:

"Eccentric old bat/
keeps three mice in her flat/
addicted to laughter/
is anything dafter?"

She was a funny and astute woman in her 70s living in New York City in a tiny apartment (and she did indeed indulge three wild mice who lived therein, which probably wasn't a good idea), and we exchanged letters for quite a while. Then I didn't hear from her for a long time. Then, one day, I got a letter in the mail from New York in a strange handwriting.

It was from her son. He had found my letters to her, he said, and he thought I would want to know that she had passed away. He thought our letter exchange must have given her a lot of pleasure and he hoped that it had me, too.

It was such a kind thing for him to do, in the middle of his grief, to write to her pen pals, insignificant strangers to him, and let us know.

The strange, random, nebulous trails we forge on the internet - behind passwords - mean that people won't be able to do that for us anymore. Discoveries of our very real friends' deaths will be accidental, as this one was. If they are discovered at all.



Blogger Xtreme English said...

How true, Ronnie! And how lucky your friend in NYC was to receive your letters and write back to you. When I think of all the things my survivors will probably toss out after I croak, the only things that give me pause are all the letters I saved from people whose love and words got me through the dark and vice versa. We are none of us in this alone, even if we don't realize it.

8:57 p.m.  
Blogger Mike said...

It is a disadvantage of having most of your friends in cyberspace. It is wonderfully freeing to be able to live anywhere without altering your social structure, but I've lost several friends in this "first comes silence" way, and the connections are becoming more ephemeral as hit-and-run services like Facebook take the place of more focused forums. As it happens, I just learned of the death of a friend's wife last night when he posted a notice of the memorial service on Facebook -- his note about her death didn't show up on my wall, despite the many "comments" it had inspired.

Email friends are a little more substantial. An old girlfriend's brother emailed me after her death, in part to thank me for sending her "Mom's Cancer," which had helped the whole family a great deal.

But when I tried to tell a very close college friend about a musicians reunion a few years ago, email to his address at the university where he taught bounced and I had to Google to find out he had drowned while scuba diving off Guam.

When I emailed our friends with the sad news, it prompted Gmail to place ads in the margins, inviting us to buy scuba diving vacations in Guam. Charlie would have laughed, but it really was kind of appalling.

7:14 a.m.  

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