Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kate P and the Facebook Wake

Yesterday I turned on my phone after my flight landed, went to the Facebook app, and saw a message that made my blood run cold. It was a message from one of my FB friends (who is also a real, proper, 'I've stayed in her house' kind of friend), to another FB friend - Kate - whom I have never actually met. And Kate will always remain a friend I never met, because the message was one of condolence. Kate has died, taken away in the prime of her youth. The last FB status she ever wrote referred to how ill and pathetic she was feeling, and how she only had the strength to lick the flavour off Pringles. It's still there, that status, and to read it is horrifying and tragic and so terribly, terribly sad.

Some might argue that to me, she wasn't really a friend, and how could I feel any kind of grief for someone I never actually met, or spoke to, or so much as shared a coffee with? Kate became my FB acquaintance through a writing network, and as someone who had a mutual interest in writing, I agreed to add her to my list of friends. And I'm glad I did - I loved reading her quirky, cheeky, optimistic and occasionally tortured way of looking at the life of an artist.

Friend. It's a funny use of that word, when it's in the context of Facebook. Recently on the Sydney Morning Herald website, someone wrote about this, and the majority of comments were howls of derision. 'If you wouldn't lend them money, they're not really a friend.' 'How can you be friends with someone you've never met?' And this: 'People who make friends on Facebook are either desperate social wannabes, or career mercenaries.' I think this is missing the point that in the FB context, 'friend' is simply another name for someone who forms part of your network. Yes, I have real friends to whom I would lend money. But I also have the FB 'friends', like Kate. And when one of those 'friends' is suddenly no longer there, and you go back through their page and read their past statuses, and begin to see hints between the lines that make you wonder if you could have seen this coming, it becomes very real. And let's be under no illusion that it's grieving, not in the same crippling way that we grieve when a 'real' friend or a family member dies, but grief nonetheless.

In one of the several FB threads that have come out of Kate's sudden, untimely and - some might argue - merciful passing, in amongst all the 'I'll miss her cupcake kebabs' and 'I loved her rainbow toe-socks', someone asked 'What are we doing here? Is this a Facebook wake?' And I suppose it is.

There's one more thing that I think about when I ponder on all of this: who deletes that Facebook profile? A family member, or a lover? Is it like cleaning out the wardrobe and the chests of drawers and putting it all in cardboard boxes ready to take to St Vinnie's? Or is it rather more practical - clicking on a 'Delete Profile' button? I hope I never have to click on that button.
(For Facebook Notes readers: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog at


arshad said...
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sheryl gwyther said...

I've been pondering on the same thing, James. Kate touched our lives, through Facebook, yes, but still we felt as though we knew this gorgeous girl - her vitality, her humour, her cheekiness, her thumbing her nose at authority, her brilliant body and her strength, poise and beauty.
Maybe we feel also grief this loss and grief for Kate because her facebook posts still came through and we saw her illness; and then her life was cut short so quickly, so efficiently while she was young and vital.
I'll never forget that last word image of her feeling so ill all she could do was lick the salt off Pringles.
I hope her page is left on Facebook so we can always return to see those exquisite images, both word and picture of our beautiful Kate Prentice, artiste-extraordinaire.