Unfriending the Dead – A guest blog by DK

From: Francesca
Sent: May 2013 07:54
To: DK
Subject: Facebook account

I see that a birthday announcement for your mother has popped up on Facebook, a sad reminder.  Perhaps you are able to disable her account?  (I’m assuming this is one of FB’s automatic actions…)

Thanks Francesca

Dear Francesca,

Thanks for your mail.  I’ve checked with my siblings and we’ve decided we do not wish to remove my mother’s facebook account (it’s quite complicated to do this anyway).  I suggest you  simply ‘unfriend’ her to avoid getting any future notices.

DK

The above correspondence took place just under a year ago.  My mother had died in October, 2012.  As the second post-death birthday of my mother’s rolls around this month, I recently thought back to this exchange.

Why don’t I wish to remove my mother’s FB account?  Do I owe an obligation to others to do so?  Is it cruel to compel others to unfriend a dead person in order to stop hearing from them?  Are the dead on FB ghosts?  Should I try to get into my mother’s account and update her status (“still dead”)?  I think my mother might have been amused by that, she wasn’t at all sentimental about her own demise.

2012-10-24 19.59.22 As I pondered these questions, I idly looked at my mother’s FB page.  Up popped a window asking me to confirm whether I wished to be friends with her.  I recalled receiving this invitation from her some years ago, and ignored it.  Without thinking too much about it, I now confirmed her as a friend.  It seemed right to befriend my mother in death, even though in life it was impossible.

Soon after becoming my dead mother’s friend however, I began to worry.  You see, I mostly just use FB to play scrabble with people overseas.  I am only on FB myself under a pseudonym.  It’s not exactly a pseudonym, the name I use mixes together the name of an old family friend and the shtetl from which my mother’s father’s family originate.  The photo I use is a picture of one of my great grandmothers.  I am now worried that my mother’s FB friends (those who didn’t unfriend her after death), some of whom are cousins on her father’s side, will now see a photo of their great grandmother coming up under ‘People You May Know’.  I will have to actively now unfriend my mother in order to prevent such potential confusion and distress.  I am suddenly aware of the paradox – what I thought was a ‘private’ act (friending my dead mother) is a socially networked public one.

Or, I could cancel my mother’s FB account. I check the FB website for how to terminate an account.

Although I momentarily toy with the possibilities of what to put in the ‘special request’ box (“quiet room on high floor”), I still don’t want to cancel my mother’s FB account.

I realise that I want my mother to maintain a virtual presence.  Although throughout my life I often wished my mother gone, in death, I want her to persist maybe because the relationship is less equivocal.   So, I cannot kill her Facebook self.

One day, perhaps there will be more dead people than live ones on FB.

Now that I’m FB friends with mom, I see the sort of things she used to post.  Some of them are excruciating to view (ie: proud mother remarks about her children).  Some of them I find poignant:

September 24 2012

Enjoyed a day in Seneca Falls, New York, to visit the wonderful exhibits on the Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, where the Declaration of Women’s Rights was adopted and proclaimed. Also visited the Harriet Tubman home and exhibits.
Highly recommended.

My mother was dead a month after writing this.

This month she would have been 92 years old.  I look forward to receiving my FB notification of her birthday.

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