I don’t know what it is, but it’s weird and pissed off. — from the movie The Thing (Kevin’s favorite quotation, according to his Facebook page)
One of my Facebook friends has logged off. For good. I use the term “Facebook friend” because he didn’t quite fit into my definition of “friend” or “acquaintance.” Friends are people you call or text on the phone. Acquaintances are those with whom you have a passing familiarity, someone whose name you know, whom you might run into and chat with at an event, but not a person with whom you keep in touch. With Facebook friends, you’re in constant contact — they know more about your day-to-day life than any real-life friend (who’s not also on Facebook).
I’d met Kevin in person, once. He let me play with his iPad while sitting at the bar at Ono Sushi. We knew of each other through mutual friends, and I’d been to a few of his Comic-Con parties. But it was only after I added him on Facebook that I began to learn more about the man: where he went to high school and that he was into the band Daft Punk, the book Game of Thrones, and the movie Blade Runner.
I was barely aware that he’d stopped commenting on my posts — friend activity online has always ebbed and flowed to the pull of real life. It was the sudden increase of activity on Kevin’s page that alerted me to his failing health.
Anytime a friend is “tagged” in a photo on Facebook, it appears on my home page. One day in late November I logged on to see that Kevin had been tagged several times by a page called “Get Well Kevin.” I followed the link to the community page, where a note explained that Kevin had been admitted to the hospital, that doctors weren’t sure what was wrong, but that he was stable. I didn’t know who was writing the updates — a family member, friend, or even coworker (Kevin was a veteran Qualcomm employee and close with his colleagues).
In the info section on the page was posted, “Since it’s 2010 and Get Well Cards are well…so last year, we have created this Get Well Kevin site for friends and family to post their get well wishes…. We will also try to put updates when we know them on here.” I clicked “like” to join the more than 700 people who wanted to offer Kevin moral support and keep tabs on his status.
A few weeks later, I noticed an update on my home page. It read, “Unfortunately, the news is not very good. However, neither is it all bad.” The note went on to explain that Kevin had swelling around his brain and was in a coma.
Days after that news, another note was added: “We are sad to report that Kevin’s condition has taken a turn for the worse.” It went on to describe specific issues, such as multiple organ failure and internal bleeding. This was terrible news, but my lack of a personal relationship with Kevin served as an emotional buffer. I processed the information as I would any tragic story I come across online — in more of a “Man, that sucks” than an “I need to go have a moment” sort of way.
The update itself didn’t strike me as much as the reaction of Kevin’s other Facebook friends. Forty-five people had “liked” the note. Until that moment, I thought clicking on the little thumbs-up icon was reserved for actually “liking” something, such as a funny link or a witty status update. I could only imagine that these people were “liking” the tone of the note or maybe the part at the end where the author suggested friends “laugh, crack a joke, a smile — whatever, in honor of Kevin.” It couldn’t have been the part that read, “Chances of recovery are extremely slim.”
Four days later, “Get Well Kevin” posted a note titled “Loss of Kevin.” It was a beautifully written eulogy typed by someone named Norm. As if they were raising their flickering lighters at the end of a concert, 45 people “liked” the announcement of Kevin’s passing. This I could not understand.
In the days that followed Kevin’s death, my home page was flooded with pictures of him. Their newness was eerie in the smoke of his extinguished candle. The “Get Well Kevin” page was transformed into a living memorial, a place where people continued to post their memories of the man they were lightheartedly teasing for being sick a month earlier.
Comments such as “I keep expecting him to call or message me like he has every day for years” were a reminder to me that Kevin was a friend I never had and therefore couldn’t lose. I couldn’t help noticing that I became more emotional over the comments of those who had known Kevin than I did at the news of his passing.
The strangest thing about the loss of my Facebook friend was that nothing of my experience with him had really changed. The virtual Kevin I knew still existed. He was still being tagged in photos, so he continued to pop up on my home page. His personal profile was still active: his phone number, his email address. How could he be gone when his contact information was right there, where it had always been? With the help of the internet, Kevin’s photos, his work, his interests, his comments, and notes remain in a world he has left.
The only way I know how to say goodbye, to accept his loss, let go and move on, is to click the link on his page that reads, “Unfriend.” Fortunately, notifications of unfriending do not appear on any page, so no one will have the opportunity to “like” my farewell to my Facebook friend.