2008-12-01

Death in the age of Facebook

The mobile on my nightstand played its chirpy little tune. Picking it up I automatically noted the time: 01:27. My older half-brother S had—unexpectedly and prematurely—died a few hours earlier, please forward the message to Sis and Mom. I decided I could probably wait till morning to call them. While I returned to sleep the search for the members of a scattered family in infrequent contact continued, using Eniro, Hitta and whatever other sites allowed suitable searches for incomplete ID information. S's partner M was travelling abroad and had to be reached. A friend of hers in another city was located who managed to get hold of M on Skype in the early morning.

In the morning I left voice mail messages to call me on my mother's and sister's numbers. As I came in to work I saw S still logged in to his Skype account, where he'd left it going for his final exercise round. More subdued phone calls during the day, there would be a viewing at the hospital the next day. I was unfamiliar with the term, but googling confirmed that it was an opportunity to see the body. When had this procedure been (re-)introduced?

The next morning grim-faced siblings and half-siblings met at the hospital chapel with S's children and M. Raw unconstrained grief from M, we others struggling to keep outward emotions in check in the prescribed Nordic manner, this sometimes necessitating rapid exits to the bathroom, outdoors or just fixed staring away, breathing deeply. (I turned on my clinical mind and observed.) A hospital-issue welfare officer hovered nearby, but soon withdrew as she felt her presence unnecessary.

Eventually we had to leave, making space for others to meet their dead, and all went to S and M's house to find solace in each other and to manage the situation by planning practical details. Work, always a sure way to keep oneself from thinking. Where should the ceremony be, how should it designed? Buddhist or Orthodox ritual? “But none of that God stuff.” Those who had their laptops with them brought up iPhoto and shared their pictures of S.

The next few days we made points of friending each other on Facebook, adding each other to our Skype contact lists, updating our telephone numbers and email addresses to better stay in touch.

Eventually came the funeral, on the time when it had been possible to book a chapel and officiants. A completely secular occasion in a chapel in a silent forest burial ground, restrained and sad; token memories offered by grieving friends and colleagues. For practical reasons the actual interment took place at a different burial ground, now with an Orthodox priest blessing the dead, rapidly reeling off the necessary many words in the cold air, comforting perhaps not so much through any presumed presence of God, but by the familiar ritual, ingrained since childhood, the bedrock of generations behind. We others, brought up in Western Lutheranism, may not have understood what was being said, but still recognised the fundamentals of ritual and the support it gave.

And perhaps it is a modern kind of votive candle that S still is logged in to Skype.

2 comments:

Martin said...

Wow. Heavy.

ArchAsa said...

This was a stunning piece of text.