When someone dies, we often use that opportunity to express how we truly feel about them. And how we truly feel about them is often… beautiful.
“You were a light in my life.”
“I’m so grateful we were friends.”
“Thank you for making a difference in the world.”
It used to be that homages were reserved for funerals. Eulogies over a coffin or flowery obituaries. But now we eulogize everyone everywhere. RIP hashtags on Twitter. Memes on Facebook. Dedicated blog posts honoring people we’ve loved and lost; as well as people we never knew at all.
On the one hand, I think that this modern way of grieving and of consolation is extraordinarily cathartic and moving. On the other hand, online memorials and tributes often make me wonder how much goes unsaid during our lifetimes.
What drives us to bare our heart after someone dies? What prevents us from showering the people we know with our love and gratitude before they die? Before they fall ill?
It’s an age-old question; not one that was created by and for the new media age. But I do wonder if the new media age might not also offer us a platform to be just as generous with our love, gratitude, and praise in advance of death as we are after it. We’re already doing this for people we don’t know in real life.
Those of us active on social media likely spend more of our time updating our Facebook statuses with fond remarks for celebrities or politicians we have never met, than people who have directly impacted our lives — even if only for one moment. The neighbor who made you feel welcome when you moved into the community. The teacher who spent extra time working with your child. The co-worker who always remembers to ask you at the beginning of the week how your weekend was.
With ease, we acknowledge celebrities more readily than the folks who could match our picture with our first and last name if asked. And likely, one day, we will publicly mourn these dead celebrities in 140 characters or less more readily than we will tell our friends and neighbors how much they mean to us while they live. It’s only after they’re gone — the people who truly fashion the days of our lives — that we find ourselves moved to the point to express how much their being in the world made a difference in ours.
Buds of hope do surface every once in a while. Today, a friend commented on a picture of me I shared on Facebook by saying, “You grow even more beautiful as you grow older.”
I felt flush with love and gratitude when I read that.
But soon after — because my thinking often overpowers my feeling — I wondered, “Would she have told that to my face?”
I’m not sure she would have. Though not because she doesn’t think it, obviously.
The screen provides a bit of a safety net. Or else the speed with which we are used to responding on social media prompts us to type out the words we really mean rather than the ones we allow after self-censoring.
And while I’m often outraged at what people are willing to say online that they wouldn’t say to my face (think anonymous talkbacks on this blog), I cautiously posit that this impulsiveness may be used for good.
Tell someone you love them today.
Tell someone how pretty she is.
Tell someone how her smile makes you feel better about the world.
Tell someone that he was a role model for you.
That he turned a bad day into a good one.
That he taught you how to be a better man, a better dad, a better friend.
There is one day a year I can count on for public displays of affection. My birthday (which is in a few weeks, by the way.) On my birthday, my Facebook Wall is all a-clutter with love. But not in the same way I imagine it would be if I were dead.
“Have a great birthday” doesn’t carry the same weight as “You were a light in my life.”
It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the sentiments. Of course, I do.
But I think we can all do a better job at acknowledgment. Use talkbacks for good. Out our anonymous admiration, and be the light of someone’s life while they’re alive.
This was originally posted at The Times of Israel.
Jen Maidenberg is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. She posted the above on her blog on Aug. 8, 2012. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/