Web Pages Immortal, Lives Not

An old classmate of mine died the other week. He was 22. I didn’t really know him, but it’s always a little bit of a shock to see an announcement that one of your peers has passed. Apparently, he had a heart condition that doesn’t rear its ugly head until something bad happens — and by then it’s usually too late.

In the age of Facebook and blogs, how we commemorate someone’s death is changing.

My classmate’s Facebook profile is still up. In fact, he is tagged in photos as recently as week or two ago. What’s most creepy is his Wall, the public place where people leave messages. One day he has the stream of normal messages ("Wanna play golf sometime soon?") and then — just like that! — the next message starts a string of remembrances, "You will be missed, you’re shining down on us from heaven." Wow.

Last September I posted about a friend of a friend, Suzanne, who started a blog chronicling her fight to survive ovarian cancer. I helped her get going on Blogger. Suzanne died last month. Her blog, though, is still up. Her last living post starts, "There comes a time when you have to face the facts and as much as I have been fighting, these last turn of events have really set me back." Suzanne may now be gone, but her words will live on.

Cathy Seipp, an LA-based journalist, died not long ago and her daughter took over her blog to post updates and remembrances. The archives remain.

For those of us bloggers, we can only hope that if we were to suddenly die our last post is not some bitchy rant about how hard it is to open a can of dog food.

But even if you don’t have a blog, you still might achieve an immortal online presence. Check out this touching memorial site for Anoopa Sharma, who was a PhD student at Emory University when she died in a car accident. A blog, photo slideshow, and this YouTube video ensure that Anoopa’s light will continue to shine. What a wonderful thing her friends did. For some reason that banner picture of her reading really touches me — maybe because I myself have spent much time reading in trains. So peaceful…

6 Responses to Web Pages Immortal, Lives Not

  1. Tim Taylor says:

    Ben,

    This is top notch. It reminds of the calls that the people made on 9/11 when they realized their planes were going down, nobody called to check on stocks or complain about stuff.

    They called to tell people they loved them and that’s what matters, love.

    For me it’s the only thing.

  2. Joann says:

    well, if the bitchy rant on opening a can was amusing, I’d think it was a fitting memorial for me LOL. I seem to amuse my friends a lot when I’m pissy.

    If it was in context with the person’s personality, it’s probably as good a rememberance as any

  3. Sean S. says:

    Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking statements such as “live today like it’s your last” is a merely a cliche. But then a 22 year old dies of a heart attack, and of course people die in car accidents and other such things every day. I think it’s human nature to believe that today is not your last day, unless you have reason to believe that it is.

    It’s tough to fight human nature, though. It takes work (mostly mental, I assume) to truly change your perspective, but I think there are obvious benefits to doing so.

  4. Literanista says:

    My cousin died today so it was a strange coincidence, albeit a very poignant to read your post today. Thnak you!

  5. Jeremy says:

    A very similar thing happened last semester at Duke. A student died suddenly because of a bike accident, and her friends wrote notes on her wall, created a facebook group to remember her, and organized a vigil at the chapel.

    Social networking sites are changing the way we relate socially.

  6. Steffan says:

    Ben,
    This post shines. It serves as a great reminder of just how far reaching our “permanent” online presence can be, as well as the value that that same permanence can have for others we’re connected to across the globe – even when we’re gone. Sometimes you don’t even realize how truly socially “plugged in” someone is until they’re… unplugged. Great post – Sorry for your loss.

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