They’re never people you know well: it’s always someone you talked to, were casual with, a friend who wasn’t a friend-friend.
Nevertheless, you considered them to be a friend at some point. This was the person you shared a table with in science class. That kid who lived down the street from you, whose parents were friends with your parents. That person that everyone knew and loved around the theatre because they were just so nice. These are people who are in your universe but who aren’t planets. Stars of a certain size, yes, but not planets.
You kept up with them enough online that any post they shared or were tagged in on Facebook made its way onto your feed. You knew on had moved to Bermuda and that one had gotten married and that one had booked a television show. These were all great things! These were all things you’d like for yourself but, still, they did that and you watched it all from a great distance. You never said anything (That would have been weird.) but you always Liked what was going on, a distant acknowledgement of them, an unsubtle statement of surveillance via tab keeping.
Then they just disappeared. Usually an absence of activity means more aliens will pop to the top of a feed but these disappearances are made clear via posts being tagged in their name. It’s always nebulous at first. “I’m in shock,” a sister writes. “They were just such a good person.” The wife of the newlywed would tag a photo and friends and family would reply, apologizing for the loss. Sometimes it’s just an obituary posted by a mother. There is always some act and nothing is made clear: it is a disappearance so subtle that, had you taken a few days off from social media, you would think they were maintaining that life without you.
The mourning begins. People start posting on their wall and sharing stories and tagging photos. A light melancholy takes over your feed as you attempt to figure out the details to their death. Was it drug related? Was there a heart attack? Was it an accident? Did anyone else die? What will happen to their body? Who is responsible for their family? Did they know they were dying? Did they accomplish everything that they wanted in life? Did they ever check your page?
Your pendulum swings violently back and forth for a few minutes trying to understand the happening until it eventually slows to an eventual stop. You will never know what happened but you know that it did happen. The person will continue getting tagged on anniversaries and holidays, thoughts and prayers circulating as a reminder of all your dead Facebook friends. A portion of that deadly wonder will renew. What happened to them? Does anyone know? Even on the rare occasion that you ask a slightly closer friend, you never hear back. These people are never within reach of your life anymore. To really ask, to really enquire, would out you as a digital stalker. You would be the well intentioned voyeur. You would be the selfish person who only asks so they will know.
Strangely, the situation and the feeling normalize. It happens more often. Again and again and again someone dies offline and on. Facebook is still a busy hallway of people minding their own business but the crowd is starting to thin. It isn’t visibly noticeable yet but you can feel it coming. Life is happening.
When a friend dies on Facebook, there is always an education. You learn about them—Who loved them, who was closest to them, where they were, what they did, what they looked like, etc.—but ultimately take the moment for yourself. A thought and a prayer are shared, sure, but the moment to take in their life is a moment to take in your own.