Archive for the ‘funerals’ category

The human condition in virtual reality

August 24, 2011

I was recently put back in touch, through Facebook, with people I knew a very long time ago. I daresay, many lifetimes ago, for the time I speak of was prior to kids, prior to marriage. Sharing brief updates with one another through FB messaging made me think of the value – or lack thereof – of the new world we live in, this lifetime of social media.

I love hearing about people I’ve known in the past. Having moved around a lot, making and loosing friends year to year, province to province, town to town, I appreciate the technology that allows me to catch  up with old ties. It’s inspiring to know that a former co-worker has been promoted, followed their dreams, found happiness in their career and especially in their life, or that an old acquaintance is doing well.

This week, news I learned through this medium was anything but uplifting. There was, in fact, too much sad news from Canada in the last few days, from the loss of a politician beloved by many in this country, who passed at the too young age of 61, to a plane crash up north in our Arctic.

I recognized the name of one of the crew members in the crash instantly. I honestly thought, at first, that it couldn’t be the same guy I tree planted with, one of my crew members my memorable first year in the bush. I thought, there’s got to be more than one man in this world with that name. Through facebook, I learned the worst. Holy hell, he’s the same age as my husband, who also knew him, and he’s left his wife a widow with three small children.

This is not my loss. I haven’t been in touch with him in ten years. But I’m haunted by this too sad story, and the fact that the last time we hung out, we were in Whistler, BC, and that’s when I met his then girlfriend, now widow.

Can the virtual world help me send my condolences to his family, and the families of the other eleven people who perished on that flight in Resolute? At the very least, I will use this technology to get an address to send something to the family. But what good is a cheque or a card or flowers, when nothing can make up for the loss?

Before reading the news this week, I was reflecting on the fact that social media is a most superficial form of connecting. No matter how many personal pictures, regular status updates or sharing of internet interests a person has on their homepage, we can never truly know each other without real face time. That’s what makes me most sad about geographical distances that separate me from loved ones. But I’m learning of more and more situations where the reality of life means people must be apart for survival – apparently there are many Newfoundlanders who knew people on that flight as well, for some of them travel there for work.

So the technology can fill in the gaps left by temporary distance. The other night, my parents watched my kids in the backyard on Skype, saw for their first time their four-year-old grandson pumping on the swing, something my son just learned a few weeks ago. My nine-month-old is now used to this form of communication, for where he once cried to see their faces on my laptop, now he smiles and points and grunts at them, much to their glee.

So is it valuable? You bet. I wouldn’t want to not know about people I’ve known and cared about, no matter if the news is sad or happy, or to share moments between my kids and their grandparents, even if it is only virtual. Does it change the human condition? Nope. We still share, suffer, feel, as deeply with it, as without.

May your families and friends be safe in this weekend’s coming storms. May next week’s news not be so sad. Either way, I’ll be online, watching.


May 5, 2010

Okay, one more post on death and dying, and then I WILL get on with other subjects (I promise this more to myself than to anyone who might be reading this because, well, just ’cause, it’s time to move on from this topic!).

I presented the eulogy at my Grandmother’s funeral last month. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. That may sound sad and insignificant, but just let me tell you why it was such a big important deal…

First of all, being chosen by my Grandmother, prior to her death of course, to do the eulogy for her funeral was a huge honour.

Second of all, I was more nervous than I’d ever been for any school presentation, dance or piano recital, or any other big event in my life, and I had to overcome my fears and JUST DO IT.

My mom had told me a long time ago that my Grandma had requested me to do the eulogy. So it was something I had been thinking about for a long time, making notes about in my journals, crying into my pillow over it because although I never knew when the day might come, I knew it would come and I had to be ready. Honouring 90 years of a life is not something to take lightly. Especially when that life belonged to one of the most important people in MY life.

You see, my Grandma and I were kindred spirits. She was most certainly one of the best friends I have ever had, and she of course knew me better than anyone else on the planet, aside from my own parents. But my Grandma’s knowing was different from that of my parents. She could overlook my rebellions, my inadequacies, my self-doubts, and talk to me as an equal, despite the two-generation gap between us. She always told me to stop worrying, despite the fact that she herself was a first-class worrier, she always told me it was okay to make mistakes, but to apologize for them, and she sympathized when I wanted to sneak out of the house to meet my boyfriend, or any other act that was illicit in my parents’ eyes.

The day of the funeral arrived, followed by a hellish week of travel, and a middle-of-the-night trip to the hospital with my daughter who chose that week to contract her yearly ear infection (actually it was my wonderful husband to took her to the hospital, but I never did go back to sleep, and so dragged my pregnant, tired body through the motions of getting ready for the funeral the next morning with more than a little frustration).

I was shaking by the time I arrived at the church. I was practicing yoga breathing, slow, deep, even, but couldn’t stop the shudders from running through my body. I held my Grandma’s dear friend and we cried together, then had to get to the bathroom to compose myself before the service began.

I kept telling myself, over and over again, that I had to do this for my Grandma, it was the last good thing I could or would ever do for her. I asked my body to relax enough to just speak clearly – please, for goodness sake, just let my voice ring out clear and steady!

I sat between my mom and dad during the service. On my left, my mom, too, was nervous about breaking down for she, too, had a speech prepared which she would read out after I read mine. My dad, on my right, was a pillar of strength. I thought about how he had been that pillar for me on my wedding day. I had been all shiny and happy that day, and didn’t feel overwhelmed until the moment when my girls had all walked out the doors and down the aisle in front of me, leaving my dad and I waiting our turn to appear before all my friends and family. My dad had taken my hand in his arm, and very calmly talked me through the motions we would go through to get me to the aisle. Sitting at the front of the church I thought about that day, and drew strength from the memory.

The minister said my name, and I stood up. My Grandma’s ashes were in an urn next to a lovely picture of her from her 60th wedding anniversary. I kissed my hand and touched the urn as I walked by, wanting to connect with her in some way before I got up to the podium to speak about her.

My voice was very shaky in the beginning. I paced myself and breathed deeply until I got into the second paragraph of my notes, and then it got easier. I made eye contact with my Grandma’s devoted friends and family members sitting before me in the pews. I felt proud to be standing there, talking about what a wonderful, nice, often unadventurous, nurturing woman my Grandma had been. I had written about a few of her friends, and her three smart, ambitious, creative children, about how I had shocked her at one time claiming to have discovered Paganism as my new religion, but how the values of love and forgiveness that she taught me came from Christianity.

Many people spoke to me later, tears in their eyes, and told me my Grandma would have been proud of my eulogy. I imagine she was proud because, just as I had thought about the eulogy long before I wrote and presented it, I know she would have imagined me up there, speaking kind words about her. It’s an interesting sensation to miss her now, but at the same time to know that, more than before, she is with me always.