Out of curiosity, I browsed through some of the posts since the deaths of the accountholders.
I was surprised there were recent posts and that some of them are frequent and current. Most of the posts express missing the deceased person a whole lot. Many were posted on the deceased person's birthday, probably prompted by the Facebook birthday reminder app. Similarly, some posts were written to share a life event, like a new tattoo, a new boyfriend, or a photo wearing a shirt the deceased person had made.
Imagine that, posting photos to share with a deceased person. I guess it's not that different than we Chinese burning paper money and furniture for our dead so that they are well equipped in their death journeys. The tangible loss of a loved one due to death doesn't decrease our need for the love, support, and companionship of the deceased loved one. We still have those needs; we just no longer have the particular person who plugged some of those holes in our lives.
The writers talked about how the deceased person was someone they could share deep feelings and secrets with and that no one else had come along since their death to fill that gap. Especially poignant were the comments that said, "I dialed your phone number and then remembered that you're not here anymore," or, "I know you would understand, and you wouldn't judge me."
I also read posts that I would characterize as prayers of intercession. They said things like, 'Watch over me,' or 'I know you're watching over me.' In some ways, it's almost as if holding on to the memory of the deceased person is an amulet against feeling alone and being afraid. It definitely sounded like the posters did not have a belief in God or a faith community to which they could turn in life's tough moments.
I don't know whether or not the posters have a family in whom they could confide or upon whom they could rely for support. Certainly the statistics and anecdotal evidence point to the loss of strong families and familial support systems for many people in our country. I hear from my mother, who lives with us, about her friends at the senior center that she visits three times a week for social activities. Mom says there are seniors in assisted living facilities, who feel essentially abandoned by their families, with little regular social contact that would affirm, 'You are an interesting person, and we like being around you.' Consider also, all those people in prisons and detention centers. Who is staying in touch with them to remind them of their humanity and that they haven't been forgotten?
One poster on a deceased person's Facebook wall said, "I wish Heaven had Skype," and another poster answered, "It does." A lot of pastoral care happens in the social media in small, daily exchanges like this one. Some of us purposefully are on the alert for opportunities on Facebook and other social media to respond with kindness and friendship when we come across these expressions of longing for hope and affirmation.
My prayer as a person of faith who belongs to a strong faith community, is that we, the faith communities, be the operators on the line who answer the Skype calls to Heaven. Those callers may not be calling our names or calling our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or prayer houses, but I am convinced that they are calling us as the members of communities of faith and purveyors of hope.
I have been convinced for a long time that what many of the lost and the lonely in our country need is someone to be family to them. That's what Herb and I have tried to do in the way we've formed our hanai ohana, a Hawaiian expression that means an intentional, extended family of choice. That is what churches that are following an accompaniment model of ministry understand is needed for building relationships and transforming communities.