Monday, May 20, 2013

Mourning Online

Over the past few years, almost every time that my grandparents were in the hospital, I found out through Facebook. It was almost a miracle eight months ago that my mom got a hold of me by phone when my grandma died before I saw it online. I was not so lucky last week when I woke up to the news on Facebook that my grandpa had passed away. My immediate reaction was grief, followed swiftly by the angry thought, Who posts this news on Facebook at 5:30 AM? It is terrible to see your grandfather's death mixed in with a George Takei joke and a cat video. My parents would have had to call me in the middle of the night in order to catch me before I saw it on Facebook, not that they could have gotten a hold of me with my phone on silent for the night anyway.

News travels fast these days, but I don't think I'm the only one who still prefers to learn some news the old fashioned way. I think this article, Grief in the Age of Facebook, sums up how we handle death on Facebook very well. Mourning online is new and strange and I'm not sure that I like it. I can see some of the benefits. My grandpa's funeral is tomorrow and I live at least 750 miles away from anyone who knew him. My family members have posted their own eulogies of him online with dozens of sympathetic comments in response. It seems to be a good way to express grief and to be comforted by friends and family near and far. It's like a virtual shiva, without the food.

And yet, I have not participated in these Facebook status memorials, nor have I changed my profile picture to include him. I did when my grandma died, but the sympathy, no matter how sincere, felt hollow to me. Facebook is where I post interesting articles and weekend photos. It's where I "like" a friend's bad puns and argue politics with family. No matter how close a relationship we have in real life, a Facebook comment can't convey the crack in my voice and a "like" is not a hug.

Despite all this, I felt compelled to write this blog post, which is not so different from a Facebook status. Mourning is hard and everyone handles it differently. Eight months ago when my grandma died, I didn't know how to mourn, and I still don't know what I'm doing now. While this virtual world can't replace old fashioned mourning, I will share this story of my grandpa with you anyway in hopes that it will help.

The last time I spoke with him was last month, on what would have been his 57th anniversary. After telling me about how much he missed my grandma, we started talking about the last time we saw each other - at my wedding almost one year ago. It was a nice ceremony, he said.

"How do you like being Jewish?" he asked.

"I love it," I responded. I am very open about my conversion, but none of my extended family members have really asked me about it, so I haven't talked about it much with them.

"You know, the Jews don't believe the Messiah has come yet."

"No, we don't."

"The Catholics think he came already." My grandpa was a devout Catholic and I got nervous that this would turn into a conversation about my eternal soul, but it went in completely the other direction. He said, "But, you know, I think there are plenty of ways to get to heaven or whatever you believe in. I think your grandma is in heaven." My grandma was not a devout Catholic. "As long as you're a good person, you'll get there; it doesn't matter what religion you practice."

I agreed.

Then he asked, "Do you do all the blessings? You know, wash your hands before you eat and bless the wine and bread?"

"Yes! We have a new wash cup that we got in Jerusalem this winter on Birthright."

"See," he said, "I know things about Judaism."

And that's how I spent the last conversation with my grandpa talking about religion, practice, and the afterlife. z"l Grandpa Earl, I love you.

My grandparents at my wedding, June 2012
Photo by David Loeb, Edward Fox Photography