More than Selfies and Silliness

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During this Thanksgiving week, I’m thinking about the people in my life and how social media has been an instrument for support, love and friendship when it was most needed.

I remember like it was yesterday the day I jumped into the Facebook world. It was a rainy afternoon in 2009, and watching my new connections pop up on the computer screen gave me an amazing sense of connection with my circle of friends, old and new. It felt like a new toy and I was giddy! (I was also hungry, because I just couldn’t pull away from my computer long enough to fix dinner for my family…yes, I was definitely hooked!)

To say that Facebook and I became fast friends would be an understatement.

For a person who tends to be an open book like I do, embracing Facebook comes easy. Even now I continue to post, long after our 17-year-old, Zack, crushed my spirit and announced he was leaving the Facebook world (because “you guys have taken it over”). Fine, go, whatever Zack…I’m not leaving (not that he cared; he was long gone and onto other formats). I will happily stick to “old school” Facebook. It’s my photo album, a reminder of happy times hiking and running with friends and Disneyland trips with my family. I smile when I look through older comments and pictures that show how we have all changed, especially my boys.

When Mom became ill late in 2011, Facebook continued to be meaningful for me, but in a different way. I withdrew a bit until we knew the extent of Mom’s illness. Also a prolific Facebooker, Mom withdrew some as well. But as time passed we figured out covert (and fun) ways to let friends know something as personal as how her doctor’s appointment went that day. A good doctor’s report was followed by a simple “check in” at Baskin Robins. Friends and family who were in-the-know would give us a “like,” knowing we were in the midst of a small celebration. We eventually became quite open and chronicled Mom’s journey with pictures and posts about our ups and downs while dealing with a serious illness.

Facebook is a funny thing. Really, I guess, it’s people that are funny…complicated. In this online world, you have your Facebook friends that are also your “real world” friends; maybe you’re lucky enough to see them on a regular basis, face to face. These friends were not only there for us virtually, but they’re the friends who would bring the hugs, the coffee, the food to our family when we needed it the most. Then there are the folks you don’t even know are following your story, at least not until they send a private message of encouragement, or a simple public post saying, “I understand.” And there are the friends who may not ever post a word, but you feel them and their support, love and prayers. All these friends, together with the friends who might not even use Facebook, were the fabric of the safety net that kept us from spiraling downward.

The other day, I came across the essay written by “Zack the Spirit Crusher” during his recent ACT exam. (I don’t think he realizes the entire essay was available online for us to see. Sorry Zack!) The essay prompt was about “privacy” and Zack’s response focused on, you guessed it, Facebook. Making it all about me, I scanned the essay quickly, looking for the word “mom” and sure enough, I was in there. I braced myself, certain he was going to give the test-readers an eyeful about his mother’s over-sharing and “take over” of Facebook. Instead, he wrote about how going public can actually help us through life. He wrote, “…my mother would post things on Facebook about my grandmother and many friends she hadn’t spoken to in years would respond and give their support. That support from hundreds of friends helped my grandmother stay in good spirits in those difficult times.”

Wow. I felt touched that he’d noticed, and maybe a little vindicated, too. But mostly, it made me think about the magic of social media. Of course, again, it’s not Facebook that’s magic at all. It’s the people! My people. My friends. Our friends.

Mom’s final Facebook post was on July 10, 2014, just one week before we lost her. She couldn’t type anymore so she asked me to type her message as she dictated it to me. Then she summed up in a few sentences what I’ve spent a few hundred words trying to say here. She publicly thanked everyone for their love and support during her time in the hospital, when she was in pain and the future was uncertain. She ended by saying that her supporters had been “the brick and mortar,” adding that “life would be nothing without family and friends.”

Well said, Mom.

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