Last week, I received an email notification from LinkedIn letting me know that my friend Kim was celebrating a seven-year work anniversary. At the bottom of the message was a big blue-and-white button with the call to action, “Say Congrats.” Sitting at my desk at work, I stared at the message on the screen for several long minutes, unsure quite what to think or how to feel. There was no one to congratulate because three years ago, after a brief illness, Kim died.
Her grinning face, exactly as I remember it, now looked out at me from under her blonde bangs through the peephole of LinkedIn’s little circular profile frame. Despite having stomped heart shapes in the snow around her grave, it remains difficult for me to concede that Kim is dead because she was one of the most alive people I ever met.
My dear friend and co-manager at my favorite job I ever held, Kim was petite with a colossal personality. When I think of her, she’s throwing her head back with a laugh, striding through the office in her high-heeled boots, ready to schmooze with anyone, anytime. Her energy was magnetic and contagious. It was impossible to go out with her for lunch or a cocktail and not have her run into at least one person she knew, probably three. All of them delighted to see her.
What does a still-grieving friend do in this situation? It isn’t my responsibility — or even my right — to ask LinkedIn to take her profile off of their site. Besides, there isn’t technically anything wrong with existing on social media in perpetuity, and I love remembering Kim. But the shock of seeing that email in the middle of my workday was incredibly disruptive. The last thing I want to do at work is collapse into a puddle of tears. And I did.
Kim would likely laugh about the absurdity of it all. I wish we had covered this topic back when we shared a bunch of our stories of loss, but social media wasn’t quite so prevalent back then. Kim comforted me at great length when my brother died suddenly from a fall off a mountain a decade ago; I listened to her tell me about her first great love, who died riding his motorcycle. We talked about how differently people grieve, how families go temporarily (or permanently) insane from it, how sometimes the bereaved “see” their loved one in something else, like say, a bird. During those conversations, Kim and I drank wine together and cried, and gave each other at least a hundred hugs.
When she died suddenly, I wanted the kind of consolation only she could give me, and I missed her with a pain so deep, I felt it in my body. It’s why I didn’t mind so much that her kids left her Facebook page up, which I now see has a “memorialized account” setting. (At least Zuckerberg’s people have addressed this concern — replete with a note about comfort and celebration along with a tasteful little blue flower icon.) I like it when our mutual friends write things like, Always thinking of you on Kim’s birthday or post pictures of her on St. Patrick’s Day, her favorite holiday, along with excessive heart and shamrock emojis. I love that her banner picture is one of her golfing on a sunny, wide green. Today, I see a note to her that reads: I miss you. Not sure why I think writing on your Facebook will make me feel better, but it does.
I guess that’s reason enough to consider an online space a reasonable platform even post-death. Virtual gravesites, where mourners can pause and remember, or even “talk” to her. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to want to think about Kim at the last job she held, which she hated passionately in the end and left a few months before she died. If she’d only gotten around to updating her employment status, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten that stupid message.
But then, I wouldn’t have spent all this time today smiling to myself thinking about how lucky I was to have had such a friend. So, alright, LinkedIn. You also reminded me that Kim was an incomparable networker, so maybe it makes sense that she would never stop shaking hands and checking in, at least virtually, even from the Great Beyond.
Anne Pinkerton is a communications professional, wife, and mom to two dogs and five cats. She has an MFA from Bay Path University, and her work has appeared in Cold Creek Review, riverSedge Literary Journal, and Hippocampus Magazine, among others. She blogs at truescrawl.com.