Monday, March 7, 2011

The Social Network

For all the criticism of the self-absorbed, oversharing, time-wasting Facebook generation of which I am a fringe member, it has been a godsend to me.  There are arguments that technology is killing real life, that everyone should "unplug" and just enjoy life more without being attached at the hand to a gadget.  That one can't be a "friend" if you've not spoken face-to-face, or at least by phone, in the last [insert arbitrary time period].  I used to think that way.  Not anymore.

I got on Facebook a little late in the game for someone my age, around April 2009.  Fun anecdote: I don't know if there's a way to find out exactly when I joined, so I thought about who my first Facebook friends would have been, and I knew Hart and Wilson were right up there, so I used the "See Friendship" feature to see when I electronically "confirmed" these best friends to the world.  Turns out Wilson gets the nod for first friend -- if anyone else thinks they have this beat, let me know!  He beat Hart by three whole months.  Hmm.  He's usually the later of the two to everything.

Anyway, I initially joined Facebook for work-related reasons (dorky, right?) and tried to limit it to people who were currently and actively friends of mine in real life.  I wasn't interested in reconnecting with anyone, web-stalking people I just met, meeting new people via Facebook -- who does that?, I thought. Losers -- only people who can't make friends the normal way.  My friend list was small but mighty, and I was fighting to keep it that way.  Until January 17, 2010.

Starting that day, there were scores of people coming through the house every day for a week, stopping by to offer support, food, wine, grocery and toiletry items, etc.  Beyond there, there were phone calls and texts coming in at all hours.  Online, I was inundated with people sending friend requests, tagging photos recent and old, sharing memories, etc.  I decided to accept all friend requests so I could share information with people, and so they'd have a way to offer their condolences.  I was so encouraged by the outpouring of support I received.  It really carried me through the darkest hours and days of my life.  I was overwhelmed to see how much love we had in our life, and all at once.  The sheer number of people and how to keep everyone up to date with information about arrangements, family traveling from afar, the weather, the wonderful tribute gathering Smitty planned in Muscatine, etc. was overwhelming.  Technology -- Facebook and otherwise -- really helped out with that.

First, it allowed people to reach out at all hours of the night without ringing a doorbell or scaring everyone in the house awake with one of those terrifying middle-of-the-night phone calls.  It was through texts, e-mails, and Facebook messages that I could talk to my friends and family in the middle of the night without waking anyone up.  A conversation doesn't have to be in real time to be meaningful and helpful.  Just seeing that, "I'm thinking about you.  Call me anytime." text at 3 am from a friend whose sorrow and concern for me was keeping her awake at that hour made me feel so loved and supported.  Facebook and texting were great ways to find out who else was sleepless and who I could call without feeling bad, or who I could at least write back and forth with a little.  

Second, I could communicate to everyone at once on Facebook.  People were genuinely concerned for me, and I wanted to tell everyone I was doing alright, what was going on, and, when I needed to, I could ask for help on Facebook.  And I have done that.  I think I used Facebook to ask people to send me pictures for the photo boards and slideshow we had at the visitations and service.  I know I used it to link to his obituary and share details about the services.  What an amazing tool it was to get that information out quickly.  I later used Facebook to plead for help with chores that involved power tools, and I was again amazed at how quickly volunteers stood up to help me fix the gate, hang curtains, paint the walls, pack, etc.  Facebook was a lifesaver in terms of me getting that help.  I have a hard time asking for help -- I never like to put anyone on the spot -- so this was a nice, sort of blanket approach so no one had to choose between saying "yes" out of a feeling of obligation and saying "no" to a widow who is crying in frustration on the other end of the phone because she just can't get the curtain rods hung herself.  I got some extra moral support at the finish line of my first road race after Brian's death after putting out a last-minute Facebook plea when I started to panic. 

Third, Facebook has changed the definition of friendship to me.  There are a handful of people from my past who I've reconnected with through Facebook and who have shown support through wall posts, "likes," and -- most importantly -- Facebook messaging.  I appreciate all the "thinking of you" messages I've gotten, and continue to get, of course.  What's interesting, though, is that two kinds of conversations stick out.  First, there are conversations with "real life" friends where texting/e-mail/FB messaging has been a supplement to our "real life" friendship -- we use it to express sentiments that are sometimes difficult to find the words for in the midst of a light phone call or even face-to-face.   Second, and more surprising, is that I've actually had a lot of profound, uplifting written conversations with people who aren't my "real life" friends at all.  I would say most of that is attributable to this blog, another technological godsend in my grieving process.  I'm certainly not trying to toot my own horn, but I've had a lot of faces from the past reach out and contact me (again, usually through Facebook) to say that reading my blog has made a difference in their lives -- be it helping them with grief issues of their own, knowing how to help grieving people, helping them put things into perspective or to keep an optimistic attitude, etc.  I can't tell you how awe-inspiring and humbling that is to me.  What's also amazing is that people have opened up to me about their own issues and painful experiences, and that has paved the way for some really life-changing conversations.  I'm also just amazed at how a select few people have been unwavering in their support, even if that support is "just" Facebook messages.  It really makes me want to be a better friend and a better person, and to take the extra time to show love to those who need it.   
By the standard definitions, some of these people would not be considered "friends," but "acquaintances."  I consider some of them to be among my best friends, for they have shown true friendship in my darkest time, and we have relied on each other.

Also, I actually became one of those "losers" who makes friends on Facebook.  As in, a stranger who is now a legitimate friend of mine.  Okay, so it's only happened once.  But it was one of the best things that has happened to me since Brian died.  My friend Kristen is my first true "Facebook friend" in that we met on Facebook.  We had an intriguing mix of three mutual friends (Hart, Wilson, and a cousin in Texas), she lived in Austin, I was new in town, so I thought, "What the heck?  I'll just send this girl a message."  We've had some of the best conversations of my life, and actually the vast majority of them have been "real life" conversations -- face-to-face time on patios is kind of our thing.  I also have "blog friends" now -- I follow some blogs and use that medium to connect with people, some of whom I've never met -- who write about things I can relate to (some grief- and loss-related, some not).  On a related note, I've been exchanging e-mails with another 30-year-old, widowed Austinite and I hope to meet her in person soon.  She reached out to me after somehow finding this blog and following it for a while.  Perhaps she'll be the first of my "blog friends" to cross over in my "real world."

Finally, technology has inspired me to keep going.  Between this blog and my status updates, I knew people were and are rooting for me as I adjust to a new life on my own.  I knew people were watching and wondering about holidays, road races, home improvements, dating, etc.  Sometimes knowing I had people reading this blog and actually looking to it for advice was the only thing that would get me to write more, which has been a great healing tool.  Again, I am not trying to brag, and I know my readership stats are not all that high (and frankly, I'm not sure I want them to be!), but I can see the traffic to this blog and I know complete strangers all around the world are reading this.  Again, I am humbled and amazed that what I have to say resonates with others to the extent that it's worth their time to read about my life.  When I see that someone has come across this site by doing a Google search of "young widow re-entering the dating world" or "which hand does a widow wear a ring on?", I know I'm hitting other people who have questions and are seeking input.  I'm not saying I have all the answers -- heck, I'm just trying to find the answers for myself -- but I know from being on the end of similar Google searches that it helps to just know you're not alone, and it also is nice to hear how others in that same boat have handled various emotions and situations.  Seeing that I was getting some of that kind of traffic made me feel some obligation to keep sharing what I've been through and what I'm learning now.  The great thing is, in doing this, I'm healing myself.  A thousand thanks to my friends Kristine and Bobby for suggesting that I start a blog "to keep us up to date on what you're doing this summer in Austin."  What a gift they have given me with that suggestion.
I guess I'm glad to be one of those laptop-addicted losers.  I'm a little better adjusted for it.  Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Wendy - came across your blog post, as it touches on some themes related to a program we're running. Think it might be of interest to you, especially as you've moved from Iowa and probably haven't seen some good friends in a while. It's called Reunite America. The idea is for people to go to our Facebook page share their stories of a special friend, family member, etc., that they haven't seen in too long.

    Tostitos is then going to make some of these stories a reality, by actually reuniting the people in person. I hope you'll check it out and perhaps share a story.

    In any event, wish you all the best in Austin, (a town I've always wanted to visit), and in all you do.


    Tostitos Reunite America Team