A few weeks ago I noticed a facebook friend updating her status to ask if anyone had heard from her friend in the past few days. I refer to this woman as my “facebook friend” because she’s someone I only met once almost a decade ago, at a concert in Florida. We spent a lovely Florida afternoon together (if there is such a thing), but truthfully our friendship would’ve been lost in the ether were it not for Mark Zuckerberg’s entrepreneurial spirit. For years now, we have interacted through “likes” and the occasional snappy comment.
I knew who she was asking about. I’d taken notice of him, both because we share the same first name, and also because he was always commenting on her stuff. That kind of behavior drives me up the wall when it’s my stuff that’s always being commented on, but they seemed quite close and his comments were funny — I remember exchanging a few zingers with him myself, but I can’t remember what they were. Even with Zuckerberg around, some things are still lost in the ether.
No one had heard from him. The facebook thread grew more and more alarmed. He lived across the country from everyone else, so people couldn’t go check in on him. Authorities were contacted. He wasn’t at his house. This became appointment facebooking for me.
They found him in an ICU at a local hospital. Liver failure, with the kidneys on the way out as well. The mother was making plans to fly out. A friend who lived a couple hours away went to see him. They told him Bill had a few days to a week to live.
I watched this unfold in real time, and I couldn’t look away. I’d stumble in drunk at 3 am and check on Bill to see if there were any updates. My friend was inconsolable. Most of the complaining you see on facebook is cryptic and self-possessed — in that context, seeing actual sorrow is quite jarring.
The updates took a more upbeat tone. A Chinese food delivery man showed up unexpectedly at my friend’s place. She tried to shoo him away, but it turned out friends of hers had ordered her food — even if there wasn’t any good news, there was something we could all smile about. One day he produced a tiny bit of urine. His kidneys were maybe coming back.
Before I knew it, my friend was out in California to see him. She’d been saying she couldn’t afford to fly out there or miss work, but apparently people chipped in to send her there. Things like that always knock the wind out of me. The news she reported was good. Increased kidney function, moments of semi-consciousness and even talk of moving him out of the ICU soon. Cautious optimism abounded. He’d already outlived his prognosis, and perhaps the worst was actually over.
On her last update before she flew back across the country and tried to return to her real life, she said that despite all the hope she’d gained, in the form of smiles and nods and hand-squeezes, the doctors told her they didn’t think Bill would pull through. Reading this, I felt a minuscule percentage of the disorienting helplessness she must’ve felt.
Yesterday, Bill was in a coma. Tonight, he’s gone. Though I never knew him, I’m sad to lose him. I wonder what he was like.
When people tak about social media, there’s a lot of talk about oversharing. Oversharing is certainly a very real thing, but there’s something beautiful about being able to live these horrible moments out in the open. I might never cross paths with this woman in real life again, but the empathy I felt for her scrolling through her timeline, as she slowly and unceremoniously lost her best friend, was as real as anything I’ve ever felt.