Today would have been my cousin Tami‘s 43rd birthday. I try not to dwell on the what-could-have-beens, or the sad realization that her longest-running and goofiest retort in any argument (“I’m two months older than you so there”) was no longer true as of my birthday last year. I have been thinking about her a LOT lately… but not reminiscing much with others. I was hoping to go to her favorite restaurant Spaghetti Factory to at least relive her through a plate of myzithra pasta, but the kid had a date tonight and the (gluten-intolerant) husband worked very late. Alas and alack. I only got to replay in my mind the last time she and I went there, for her 39th birthday, and she made the waitress cry by insisting she was going to be dead within a month and that was her very last birthday dinner. Oooh, thank you for the double spumoni ice cream! (For the record, Tami loved to tell people this to see their reactions, and she celebrated birthdays #40 and 41, too. Poor waitress. My kid just sat there rolling his eyes.) There is absolutely no way I could possibly summarize our 42 year history growing up together or our complicated — incredibly complicated — adult lives with each other. Another day, another novel.
But since Tami’s passing, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon with social media keeping her “alive.” I’m not going to attempt a well-crafted analysis, but rather share and explore some of what I’ve witnessed in the last year. Please feel free to jump in, especially if you knew Tami and have been pondering the same Facebook phenomenon.
Tami took to Facebook like a fish to water. Tami and Facebook were made for each other. She was incredibly social and loved to be with friends, reconnect with old friends, meet new people, etc. Facebook was her way of collecting everyone she met and keeping them with her — even if she only met them once in passing.
I maxed out a credit card and took her to Paris in 2009 (a bucket list item), and I remember being really annoyed with how she would pull out her phone and “connect” with complete strangers on Facebook after talking with them for only a few minutes. I remember specifically a couple from the midwest who were sitting at an outside cafe table, and a young woman (from Australia?) she chatted with at Notre Dame. Deep down I wish that I had that kind of trust in strangers, that kind of carefree attitude and complete lack of concern for things that may very well be harmless boogeymen in my own mind (safety, privacy, etc — clearly less concerning now since I’m blogging about it). It seemed Tami posted everything to her Facebook account: every outing, every party, every accomplishment of her children, every misdeed of her children, every new tattoo, every bad hair day. She also posted about every cyber-knife, every radiation treatment, every chemo appointment, every craniotomy, every seizure, every trip and fall, every hospital visit, and, frankly, most of her abnormal body functions that folks don’t usually share on Facebook. God bless her — she shared it all. As of today, she still has 665 friends.
We had her official memorial the day before her birthday, March 9, 2014. We drained some big pitchers of lemon drops (her favorite), ate, cried, then threw her into the water at Lincoln Park. I’m sorry, I meant to say we released some of her ashes into the water that was gently lapping the beach. The rest of her ashes her dad had spun into beautiful glass keepsakes. Forgoing a formal burial plot for public place scatterings are pretty common now, and not just for my generation. To visit my husband’s dad, one needs to go hiking in the mountains north of Tucson or down to the beach south of Yachats. To visit my husband’s father, one needs to take a boat to the middle of Puget Sound. To visit my beloved grandmother, one needs to visit the beach near Nathan’s Hot Dogs at Coney Island (I’m not kidding — do you know how long of a subway ride that is?). The point is that of these four departed relatives, none of them have a traditional physical space where loved ones can gather to remember.
Except maybe Tami does…
At midnight, March 10, 2014, after an exhausting emotional day, while chatting with our (mine and Tami’s) best childhood friend on Facebook who now lives half a world away, I got a notice that it was Tami’s birthday. I couldn’t shut it off or make it go away. The next morning there were about a dozen birthday wishes from various people who didn’t seem to be in Seattle. Did they not know she was gone? As the day went on, it was pretty clear that a lot of people she was connected with in the electronic world had no idea she had passed on six weeks before.
As 2014 went on, it seemed that Facebook also had no idea she had passed away. This is working out for us because we all have access to her photos still, her posts (those crazy memes she loved to share! It takes a while to sort past them…), and her page has turned into what I hear happens on a lot of Facebook pages of those who leave us — digital memorial sites for the living to reach out to. We don’t have a cemetery to sit in; we have Tami’s “I’m a princess, d’uh!” page. For her it seems wholly appropriate and I don’t think she would have wanted it any other way.
But today, what would have been her 43rd birthday, there are some birthday wishes to her that seem so generic, so non-specific, that I am left wondering if the well-wishers even know she is gone. Facebook has made it so easy to write the simple “Happy birthday, have a good one” by prompting us with the little notification box every morning. One doesn’t need to even look at the person’s page to post to it. It makes the relationship seem artificial… but in my mind this also keeps her alive in a weird way. Maybe there are people out there in the world that don’t know her well enough to know that she lost her battle, but still thought to send her a little birthday greeting. Artificial life. She lives on not just in our hearts and our heads, but in the lives of people she touched at least once. It’s not perfect, it doesn’t bring her back, but it is slightly comforting to know that in the minds of some she is still here with that crazy loud cackle, that unquenchable desire to seek out adventure/trouble, and everything else that made Tami Tami.
I wonder if one of the birthday greetings is from the couple we met in Paris?
Love you, crazy bitch.