Reach out to That Person. Now.
On friendship, death and unexpected Facebook statuses.
Someone I grew up with died yesterday. I’m not going to lie and say we were close. We weren’t. At least not as adults. There was an age gap, and we lived at opposite ends of the country. I’m also not going to say I did all I could, even though I wish I had.
But her life was part of the tapestry of my parents' lives and therefore interlinked with mine.
I was scrolling aimlessly through Facebook when I saw the news. My heart dropped.
Of course, I’ve seen other people’s deaths announced via Facebook. We’ve all been online long enough to become accustomed to the odd sad status update.
But this? This was different. This was the death of a 34-year-old with her whole life ahead of her. She had a 9-year-old daughter. She was beautiful.
It’s stayed with me ever since, as I try to navigate the emotions that come with such a shock via something so, arguably, impersonal as social media.
I still don’t know how she died. I may never know. But what I do know is that she had a history of mental health issues, but appeared, at least on 〜the internet〜, to be doing better. I know this was never meant to happen to her. I know how much it hurts to see her go.
Because what do you do when a friend’s death is announced on Facebook? Do you like the status to show support or is that vulgar? How can you articulate how sorry you are via a comment alone? Is a private message to her family too invasive at such a terrible time?
We’re all so used to social media now, but handling someone’s death online still somehow seems new. I guess it’s because we almost become immune to each other’s little updates — a Facebook photo taken in the park, a birthday party we’re invited to via Instagram. Without ever having a proper conversation, it can start to feel like we’re a tiny part of their lives.
But when someone dies, it serves as a harsh reminder that there’s so much we don’t know. There’s so much we don’t understand, and never can expect to understand.
In many ways, we humans are like islands. We pass each other by chance and share some beautiful moments, but really, when it comes down to it, we’re alone. It takes something as sad and inevitable as death to remind us of exactly that.
It’s easy to assume someone’s online presence means they’re having a *great life*. It’s easy to think they wouldn’t want to hear from you. But it makes it much harder when they inevitably go.
The problem is, we think we have time. To say the things, to get back in touch, to go for that coffee. We say we’ll reach out one day, but too often that day never comes.
And that isn’t to say that going for coffee would make a difference in their circumstances. Perhaps it’s narcissistic to assume it would make any difference at all.
But when someone dies, particularly when someone young dies, it serves as a startling reminder to the rest of us who are left behind.
Reach out. When it feels awkward. When it feels like you’re saying too much. When it doesn’t feel like enough.
Death is guaranteed. And while we can’t guarantee the people we love won’t go before us, we can have fewer regrets.