I love this post, @AmyVernon and somehow hadn't seen until this moment. I too lost an important friend in high school, someone who was the center of our group, so your description of loss resonates.You write beautifully and I enjoyed this read especially.
Why Facebook Doesn’t Suck: A Story of Loss
Easier said than done. After a few letters or phone calls, friendships gradually faded away, though the advent of email meant we could share stupid jokes that made the rounds until you saw every joke in the history of mankind at least a half-dozen times and began to regret ever signing onto email in the first place.
That’s besides the point, though. Fact is, until Facebook, there really wasn’t any way to really catch up with all those people who’d disappeared over the years. I’ve learned of one elementary school friend who responded heroically when a maniac shot up her office. Of college classmates who’ve risen to fame in Hollywood. Of friends who succumbed to the siren call of drugs and are still struggling to pick up the pieces.
And then there’s Christine.
My senior year of high school, I ran with a group of punks. Real punks – at least, as real as they could be in the suburbs. We lived in middle-class homes but listened to the Sex Pistols. Spiked hair, mohawks, ripped jeans, safety pins. And those weren’t retro or cool yet. We wore black on the outside because black was how we felt on the inside (yes, we listened to The Smiths, too).
I didn’t know Christine, then. She was the older sister of Justin, my dear friend and the heart of our group of friends. He was magnetic north. We gathered at his house after school more often than not. Most of our funny group stories revolved around him. One day, he and a couple other friends were teasing me and I got pissed off and stormed away. Next thing I knew, Justin was on his knees, asking my forgiveness. Sincerely.
Christine was in college already. She was a few years older than Justin. I don’t think I ever met her until his funeral.
You see, 25 years ago yesterday, Justin took his own life in the early morning hours. Broke the locks on the garage doors, turned the car on and died. His was a closed casket.
It was one of the seminal moments of my life and changed me forever.
The group of friends that surrounded Justin stayed tight for some time. The following summer, when I came back to Long Island to work at a weekly newspaper, our crowd had parties and hung out many weekends. Some were still in school, some were home from college, some were about to head to college for the first time.
During my sophomore year, my parents moved from New York to California. As happens in life, I gradually lost touch with almost all the friends from that group. I kept in touch with Justin’s mom for several years, but after I moved from Florida to Arizona and she moved and her phone number changed, even that faded away.
Still, every Aug. 8, I awoke with a pit in my stomach, which wouldn’t go away until I remembered why. You’d think after a decade or so, I might remember why I felt so bad around that date every year, but something in my brain switched off – almost as if it was trying to protect myself, but failed because now I felt crappy and couldn’t figure out why.
A few years ago, Facebook came into the picture and I started getting friend requests from people I knew growing up on Long Island, at the Connecticut summer camp where I was a CIT, in college, in Florida, in Kentucky, in Arizona – all the places I’d lived over the years. One such request was from John, my closest friend in that high school cabal, and Justin’s best friend. It was so great to be in touch with him again; he posted photos of us from high school, some with Justin and some without – all reminding me of the joy and the pain.
We messaged privately sometimes, just to catch up on people, so as not to be discussing them publicly. He said he was in touch with Christine, Justin’s sister. Would I want to connect with her?
Duh. Of course. I reached out tentatively, saying I didn’t know if she remembered me. I hadn’t realized how connected she was to Justin’s life back then. She knew damn well who I was and was happy I’d reached out.
We chatted on Facebook, discovered we had a lot of likes and dislikes in common and though we’d never spoken since Justin’s funeral, began building a friendship that sprang from a mutual loss but was built on mutual respect and common interests.
John died suddenly, unexpectedly, about a year later. We consoled each other. I sent Justin’s mom a prayer card from John’s funeral. We mourned again, this time as adults grateful for the time we’d been back in touch with John rather grieving the years we knew we’d never have with Justin. It wasn’t easier, per se, but we were older and we understood grief better. And a natural death, even unexpected and sudden at 40, is different than a suicide at 16. Not better, just different. At 40, we’ve had more experience with death and know that, in time, the pain can subside and become tolerable.
Still, Christine and I had never talked on the phone. We emailed back and forth and were so grateful for John having put us in touch with one another, because it brought some meaning to his loss, in a sense. I know I’m not phrasing it well, and I know how much his death rocked his family – his mother, his sister, his wife, his daughter — but for me, I think of John and I quietly thank him for bringing Christine back into my life.
Last year, on Aug. 8, I posted something about Justin. Christine responded almost immediately. I realized she didn’t really know how much Justin’s friendship and death had meant to me. The next day, I breathed deeply, picked up the phone and called.
For about an hour, we talked. We cried. I mean, we SOBBED. We laughed. I finally had the chance to tell her how amazing her brother was and how his death had changed me for the better, despite the searing pain I still felt.
And this year, as the anniversary came up – the 25th anniversary – my brain did what it does, and I forgot. I remembered a couple weeks ago, determined not to forget this year. And yet, I did. Then, sitting at my computer somewhere around midday yesterday, I remembered. And then I looked at my Facebook mail and saw a message from Christine.
Despite the fact that reading her message made me cry, I suddenly didn’t feel so alone.
Photo via Flickr Creative Commons by Jana Shea.
I met John shortly after Justin's death. While I never knew him myself, I also never saw his spirit die in the hearts of those who knew him.
Hi Amy, I've struggled with my continued fascination with FB and its hold over me. Even being one its fervent critics (hell, I even wrote a biting graphic novel satire about it), there are moments like what you described here that underscores its merits. I've tried to explain this to others: in its sometimes perceived superficiality, the irony lies in its ability to reconnect some of the pieces of your life that reminds you who you are, and how you came to be. For me it's provided an organic thread to my roots, long-lost cousins, 1st grade fellow student and work colleagues... all of whom would have been lost to me without the digital watering hole we know as Facebook. Thanks for sharing and reminding me, Amy. P.S. Now, if we could only get its stock share price to scale! ^J
@RonCallari Absolutely. I look at FB first as a place to connect with people. Is it the most important invention known to mankind? No way. But I also can't count how many times I've suddenly noticed two of my friends are friends with each other on FB - and it turned out they connected over a conversation on my profile. :)
A wonderfully written post Amy, thank you for sharing. One of the many examples why Facebook should always exist. Very well written; happy to share!! Thank you!
Beautifully written, Amy. Thanks for the share. Currently preparing for a high schhol reunion (one of those with a "zero" on the end), and the committee is considering how to remember those we've lost. I'm sharing this with them. You rawk.
@jeffreypjacobs Thank *you,* Jeff. I like that your reunion folks are remembering to remember those lost. I have a very scary reunion coming up that has a "5" at the end, myself. :)
Now you've made me cry, and we don't even know each other, I blame Shelly Kramer. Sincerely though, great post, and it is very true.
What a beautiful and heartfelt story, Amy. And you are so right about Facebook. Now I need to go grab a tissue.
@DonnaChaffins Thank you, Donna. And Facebook has allowed us to become close friends despite never having "met." I can't wait for the first time we do and I get to give you a big ol' bear hug. :)
This is one thing I love about Facebook, that it lets you reel in the flotsam and jetsam of your life. You know I'm not one for touting my own stuff on comments, especially for a post as lovely and heart felt as this. I wrote the post I'm including here a little over a year ago when I had a similar experience that made me realize how wonderful FB can be. When we let it, FB is terrific. Here's the post, if you're interested: http://generationbsquared.com/boomers-join-facebook-now/
@wordwhacker Linda, you are welcome to share, always, as I know you would only share something germane to the subject at hand. The last couple of days have drained me a bit, but I will read your post soon, I promise. Thanks for reading.
@AmyVernon Oh, you don't really have to read it. But when people complain about FB (and in many cases rightfully so), I think about how it's like one of those toy nets people have in kids rooms where you've thrown everyone from your life, and you can glance at it every now and then and say, "yup, she's still here." You wrote a compelling, nice blog.
Tears are streaming down my face. I lost a friend early on and he is with me always.
This posting is so heartfelt. I would like to share it. As it is so personal to you I want to ask if that would be ok.
@MarlaSullivan Thank you so much, Marla. I'm humbled that my words touched you so. Please, do share it if you'd like. I truly appreciate you asking, but I'm somewhat of an open book that way. My deepest condolences at the loss of your friend.
Wow, AmyV. Lovely. Bittersweet, but very touching. Glad to see you connected with Justin's family members.
@AmyAlex63 Thanks, AmyA. It is, indeed, very bittersweet. It's been a very emotional couple of days, but even "talking" it through like this has been somewhat cathartic.
Thank you for this. It's beautiful. I lost a close friend ~2 years ago and social media has kept me connected to so many in his life. Wonderfully written.
@richmackey Thank you for your kind words, Rich. I'm sorry for your loss, but glad you've been able to stay in touch through these crazy Interwebs.