When I first joined Facebook more than a decade ago, it was novel and engrossing. After college, I lost touch with friends as we dispersed across the globe.
So, it seemed almost magical that I could finally behold them in their new avatars as giddy parents bouncing babies and as driven professionals.
But after a few years of wishing a million people ‘Happy Birthday’, the novelty of Facebook was wearing off for me. I realized that 90% of the time I was just viewing updates of people who were constantly humble-bragging their perfect lives.
I couldn’t understand why someone had to wish their husband Happy Anniversary on Facebook with a slide reel of 15 photos when they were probably sitting right next to them.
As I reduced my Facebook presence, my brother logged onto Facebook for the first time. He being the social extrovert was enamored by it. He would post regularly about his favorite things — jokes, cats, and food. He would like and comment on every post in his feed.
“Tina, how many friends do you have on Facebook?” he once asked me.
“Well does the count really matter? Just friending someone doesn’t make them a true friend.” I replied.
They might wish you ‘Happy Birthday’ when Facebook reminds them, send you good electronic vibes and heart emojis, but how many of them will show up for you when you need help?
“Yes, that can be the case. But they are all my good friends,” he replied with a smirk.
I laughed and we indulged in our favorite sport- an hour-long ‘Facebook vs Real friends’ debate.
If I were to look at my Facebook friends, it basically was a directory of all the people I had come in contact with at various points in my life. So there were school friends, college friends, work friends, family friends, relatives, and all other types of acquaintances.
The size of my network said nothing about the strength of my network. Out of the hundreds, I could only count less than 10 real friends I could turn to.
The last time I saw my brother, I got mildly annoyed with him. It was again over Facebook. He lived in another state. I was visiting him after 2 years with my kids. He was available only for a few hours that day. So we met for lunch in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas.
He spent the better part of the lunch, looking at his phone and browsing Facebook. He took pictures with my kids and uploaded the pictures instantly. But other than that, he hardly spoke to the kids or us. He was very distant like he wanted to be done with that lunch as soon as possible.
I was hurt. It was Christmas. Families were joyfully coming together and celebrating. But here even though we sat at the same table, we were miles apart from each other.
We said our goodbyes not knowing we wouldn’t see each other again in this lifetime. 2 years later on Christmas eve, his body would be found. I later realized that his aloofness was his way of hiding his problems from me and not because he valued FB over me.
The first sign that something was amiss with my brother was that we couldn’t reach him on his phone. More startling than that was the fact that there were no Facebook posts from him for 2 weeks. His ever present digital footprint was now eerily missing.
An unsettling dread started filling in. Where was he?
I found out the answer a few days later. He had died from food poisoning alone at home. I broke the awful news to my parents that night. When I woke up the next morning, it was New Years’, the 1st of Jan 2020.
My Facebook feed was filled with celebratory posts of joyous people ringing in the New Year. My heart stopped when I saw a post from my mother. She had put up a memorial picture of my brother to let everyone know of his death.
I don’t know what kind of strength it would have taken my mother to post to the world about her child’s passing.
She had also changed her profile picture to a picture of my brother. It’s a heartbreaking sight when grieving mothers change their profile picture to reflect an image of their dead child smiling.
I couldn’t bring myself to post about his death, neither could I bear to see him entombed in that picture.
Condolences and crying emojis began popping up on my mom’s post. My mother said, “ Tony would have been so happy to see all these comments.” I agreed. He’d be beaming up in heaven, counting those comments.
But I wondered who would really remember him as months passed on the calendar.
In the months following his death, just 1–2 friends reached out to us. On his birthday, 2 of his friends wrote on his wall. I was certain that on his first death anniversary, they would remember him. But save for a loyal friend of his, his absence was not acknowledged.
Where were all those so-called friends of his? I wondered if Death was such an uncomfortable emotion, that they had ghosted us during our most painful time.
I understood that people had their own lives, their own set of problems to deal with, but the fact that they couldn’t bother to send one text to check on his family, post one message or make one call made me realize one thing.
The living move on very quickly.
It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how famous you are or how many followers you have on Instagram. Once you die, you are yesterday’s old news, just another sad event in the past. The world keeps throttling forward full speed.
It’s only for your immediate family that the world suddenly comes to an abrupt stop. It’s only your immediate family that grieves and grapples with the broken pieces. It’s only your immediate family that lives with the heavy pain that never diminishes.
The rest of the folk are back to Facebook posting their selfies and other happenings in their ‘blessed’ lives. It’s not their fault, it’s just the nature of life.
It’s up to us to be able to discern the relationships in our lives when we are alive. Who’s really got our back? Who’s going to be grieving our death? Who’s going to check on our grieving family if we’re gone tomorrow?
Death weeds out the namesake friends from the true friends. They are the ones that count. They are the ones that truly matter.
If you knew how quickly people forget the dead, you would stop living to impress people. -Christopher Walken