I log into Facebook and read about a friend’s death.
The post on my newsfeed is hesitant and the questions that follow cry for answers. The news is inconclusive. Why tag a dead person in a post I wonder as I go over to his timeline. More questions greet me.
What am I hearing?
Someone tell me it’s not true o?
Is he really dead?
I just saw him two weeks ago. What happened?
Is this a joke?
On and on, the first reaction to death pours in. If the dead could talk, what would he say?
I spend the evening watching grief on social media. Words multiply quickly with high-speed connection. Small details here, small details there. An illness. A brief illness. A girlfriend. A babe. A teaching hospital. A brother. A mother. Two sisters. An engagement ring. Suddenly. Last night.
Hours later, denial gives way to acceptance on his timeline.
Although RIP carries as much eloquence as HBD, I do not conclude that grief on social media is impersonal, but rather reflective of the times. We wail in brief because something else on our newsfeed catches our eye. Our grief bears the mark of post-modern efficiency. It is not today that we shortened okay to kk.
His family posts a eulogy with a photo of him much later. Comments follow. I let my cursor play over the comment box. I type, you will be missed, and then delete. It is not good to lie to the dead. I join others for whom silence is fitting. We like the photo like signatures in a condolence register.
I don’t cry because I had not known him well enough for his death to unlock the door behind which my tears hide. We had drifted apart over the years as old friends do. He’d found me on Linkedin and we’d shared a couple of brief conversations about where we were in life and where we hoped to be. I do not remember what he said. I do not remember what I said. I must have told him about my blog; it is what I always do.
That is not to say his death means nothing to me. It does, but in a general way that makes me look inwards. Nothing like another’s death to bring your life into sharp focus.
Around midnight, I fall asleep. When I fully awake, I drink tea and scan blogs. Death is everywhere, disguised as poetry, woven into prose. I stumble on Robin’s post, Motivational and Elevating, as I try to air my mind. All these things: watching grief on social media, thinking about my life, and reading Robin’s blog, are connected and I think there’s a lesson for me. Robin leads me to Candy Chang.
After losing someone she loved, artist Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled the sentence, “Before I die I want to _____.” Within a day of the wall’s completion, it was covered in colorful chalk dreams as neighbors stopped and reflected on their lives. Photographs of the wall spread online and since the original wall in 2011, more than four hundred Before I Die walls have been created in over 60 countries and over 25 languages by passionate people all over the world.
Thinking about mortality brings no fear. I feel confident about that place we must all go, but I don’t want to go just yet. Inspired by Candy Chang, I scribble and marvel that my long- and short-term goals colour my paper with broad strokes. Perhaps now I will live more intentionally. Perhaps now I will be who I am. I don’t want to settle for something less because I tired of waiting for something more.
Some of the things I want to do before I die belong in my diary. Some I can share here.
Before I die, I want to . . .
- Travel just because; feel warm sand massage my feet, see mountains I dare not climb, and drink tea from antique Arabian teapots
- Light as many candles as I can. I lose nothing by lighting other candles for together we brighten the room
- Let the people I love know that I love them. I do not want them to waste even a day questioning my love
- Make more money so I can buy a Bentley and give to causes dear to me
- Read the books and watch the films, that I should have already cancelled from my to-do list
What about you?
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
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