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Last week, I wrote about suicide and referenced a personal story blog post that I wrote in 2017 on the topic, which was actually a reprint of a story that I wrote on my professional Facebook page in 2015 — confused yet? In any event, three separate readers wrote me and suggested that I should reprint the personal story for those who didn't read it or forgot it. So, I decided to do just that. Thank you Terry, John, and Sarah for the suggestion — this one is for you!
Death, Social Media, and a Butterfly Named Ray
Last Sunday was a warm and beautiful spring day, and after a gloomy Saturday spent cleaning the house and doing chores, I was ready to be out and about. As it turned out, a group of friends from my old neighborhood in Hell's Kitchen was gathering for brunch at a favorite Italian restaurant and I decided to join them. It's a great group of guys, ranging in age from early 40s to 50s, and we've known each other for many years.
The conversation was light and amusing, and an atmosphere of spring revelry was in the air. At one point, my friend Gabe mentioned that he had seen someone earlier who reminded him of Rich, a friend of ours who had recently died. Rich had been diagnosed with cancer, and sadly lost his battle shortly thereafter. We reminisced and all joined in a toast to Rich and his life.
Later that day, Gabe asked, "how many of your Facebook friends are dead." I was taken aback for a moment, not knowing what to say, but then I realized, that yes, this must be a common occurrence, and no, I didn't think any of them were dead, but maybe I wouldn't know. I have 394 "friends," which seems crazy but that's a topic for another post!
When someone dies, family and/or friends handle the closing out of the deceased's life — personal belongings, taxes, homes or apartments, gym memberships, credit cards, but what about the deceased's social media presence? What happens with that, is it left hanging in the ether? I assume with their passing, so goes all of the usernames and passwords to their various accounts. hmmm...
This internal line of questioning reminded me of a similar situation that I experienced a couple of years ago. A young man who lived in my building had committed suicide. Since the man was a friendly casual acquaintance, I checked his Facebook account to see if we had friends in common, which we did. I wrote each of them to let them know of his passing but I also wanted to give them a heads up as I was writing a short story on my Facebook Life Coaching page about the man and didn't want them to find out about his suicide through my story. I did check his page every once in a while and the page remained the same as if he took a break from posting but would return once again.
In any event, the point of today's post was to re-post the short story I wrote about Ray. However, now that I'm researching this, I checked the other day and saw that Ray's page had, indeed, been changed;
Remembering Ray Lee
was now on his page. So, yes, there is a procedure for people to be memorialized. At the end of the story is a short list of social media features that deal with this issue.
Now, onto my story….
Ray, the Butterfly & Me
(Originally published on July 20, 2015)
I've had the most inexplicable day. I started Monday with great intentions, although dealing with my finances first thing in the morning is never a good idea as a kickoff to productivity. I was feeling a bit out of sorts but forged through and made good progress. After lunch, I headed out to shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond to stock up on toiletries (if you didn't know, BBB has the cheapest toiletries in the city) and Trader Joe's. In the lobby, I chatted with Joe, the afternoon doorman, who told me that a tenant had committed suicide the night before.
As it turned out, it was a young man who was a friendly acquaintance of mine from the gym, Fire Island, and our building. His name is Ray Lee, and although I didn't know him well, he always greeted me with a big smile and made a point to engage in short, but pleasant conversations with me. He really was one of the nicest, sweetest guys, who also happened to be "model" handsome. His energy was so positive that I could tell he was a kind soul.
In any event, his death has impacted me in a surprisingly profound way — the way that awful news can impact you, even though you don't know the person involved very well.
As I made my way to the store, I was in a deep and thoughtful mood — partly mourning for Ray and trying to comprehend his shocking and senseless death, and partly being grateful and thankful for what I did have.
As I reached for a basket in the lobby of the store, a butterfly (with blue stripes and yellow wings) flew into it and perched on the plastic slats. It's a 3-level subterranean store, and the toiletries are on the lowest level. I walked carefully down each escalator fully expecting that my new friend would take flight, but, oddly enough, the butterfly didn't fly away. I proceeded to shop, aisle by aisle, carefully putting my items in the basket, so as not to disturb my winged friend. When I was done shopping, I went up to the 2nd level to pay for my purchases.
I patiently waited in line for a cashier, butterfly in tow. Even the rather lengthy checkout process along with the clatter of the small group who had gathered around didn't seem to bother my friend. There I was minding my own business and now I had a dilemma: what should I do next? Juggle my bags and the basket and attempt to bring him or her up one more escalator to the outside, or leave my pal in the bowels of the store in the basket? The group consensus was to head upstairs with the basket to see what would happen at the front door.
Well, despite my best efforts to encourage my guest to fly and be free, the only outcome was a fluttering above my head before a soft landing in the palm of my hand. What else could I do? I walked out and headed to my next stop with my arm lifted and palm open.
There we were, man and companion walking up Broadway to Trader Joe's, having a one-sided substantive conversation about life, death, and what it all means. After four blocks, my friend flew off to enjoy the greenery in a park, and I strolled on in a contemplative, yet uplifted mood.
I decided to call my new friend, Ray…
Cheers to you Ray, wherever you may be…
You will both be missed.
Social Media Policies on Deceased Members:
Facebook: Users can choose a "legacy contact" to make posts on their behalf after they die. That contact can respond to new friend requests, update the cover photo and profile, and archive their Facebook posts and photos. Only family or those with power of attorney can delete the account.
If you don't want a Facebook account after you pass away, you can request to have your account permanently deleted instead of choosing a legacy contact.
Instagram: Also allows for memorializing or deleting by a family member.
LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest: They don't offer "memorializing," They only allow for deletion of the account by family or power of attorney.
Cooking for Joan
Given that this column is in celebration of those who've passed on, my recipe this week is one of my Mother's old cake recipes. My mother died unexpectedly on September 5, 2001 (yes, just days before 9/11--as you can imagine, it was not a pleasant period of time for me). This recipe is an oldie but a goodie from her collection of recipes.
Remember the days of the pudding cakes? Well, they're back, baby! I recently resurrected this recipe and it's become one of the most requested desserts in my repertoire. It's so simple to make and is incredibly moist and flavorful. Just make sure to really butter and flour your pan or you'll have a crumbly disaster on your hands!
Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cake
Prep Time: 20 min | Cook Time: 45-50 min | Makes: 14 | Difficulty: Easy
- 3 tablespoons of butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- 1 yellow cake mix
- 1 package instant pistachio pudding mix
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 (6 ounces) package miniature semisweet chocolate chips
- 2 tablespoons of confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter and flour a Bundt pan thoroughly (You can use any type of grease that works for you, I just prefer butter. For that matter, you can use any cake pan of your choice, I just think a Bundt is fun!)
Blend cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, sour cream, oil, and extract in large mixer bowl on low speed, or by hand (my preferred method), scraping bowl constantly, until moist and blended, about 1/2 minute.
Beat on medium speed, scraping bowl frequently, 3 minutes.
Toss chocolate chips with a little bit of flour (to help suspend them in the batter).
Fold chocolate chips into batter.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake 45-50 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool 15 minutes; inverted on a wire rack.
Remove pan; cool completely.
Sift powdered sugar on top and around the cake. (You can also frost it, drizzle it with loose icing, whatever you like!)