Most people have a love-hate relationship with Facebook, but these days, I’m reminded about why I love the social network so much.
I have seen several friends go through cancer, and I’ve seen how Facebook can be an important ally in the process, in fighting mesothelioma or another type of cancer, and in helping friends and family say goodbye and handle their grief.
One of the most remarkable things is how Facebook can help us remember those we have lost, even years after their passing.
Remembering a Friend
In 2006, I lost a friend to cancer.
He and I sort of grew up together, and by that, I mean he was friends with my older brother, and I had a crush on him for many, many years. Before he died, I actually sent him a note in which I confessed my longstanding crush. His passing was so difficult for his friends and family, particularly his one sibling, a sister.
Over the years, the pain does seem to lessen, and I’ll always remember his cute smile and fun personality. Unfortunately, I can’t always remember the exact day he passed. But every year on Feb. 16, his family posts pictures and memories of him in a private Facebook group. There are 75 members in the group, and no one else can see the posts.
This year, his mom wrote: “After 9 years, it is still a tough day. We so appreciate those who remember him and continue to share memories of him. They are such a comfort and help us to live with ‘different.’ ”
His friends and family also post in the group around his birthday. He would have celebrated his 40th birthday last October.
His friends from near and far also comment on the posts. We all share in a moment and remember all the amazing things about him. Without Facebook, Feb. 16 and his birthday likely would pass without notice. But this way, it’s like we all gather again to reach out and comfort one another.
Lost Friends Leave Behind a Rich Legacy
In the last eight months, I’ve said goodbye to two college friends who lost their battles with cancer. I’m constantly reminded about both of their lives, and the rich legacy they left behind. This is all thanks to Facebook.
Earlier this year, when I heard that one friend was in her final days, I started thumbing through my old photo albums, snapping pictures with my smartphone along the way. Then, I posted those images to my Facebook page and tagged my friend. This way, all of her friends on Facebook could see the pictures from our time in middle school and high school.
Before long, lots of our buddies began commenting on the pictures. It was so good to connect like this with people I haven’t seen in nearly two decades. I also posted a picture of my friend and me as my profile picture.
“I Absolutely Think Facebook Helped”
Last year, college friends set up a Facebook group to share prayers and memories of the other friend as she neared the end of her cancer battle. I was able to stay updated on her journey with lymphoma, and we were all able to share our grief.
Since her death in July, her husband regularly posts about their kids on his Facebook page. Seeing pictures of them creating a Valentine’s Day gift for their dad or walking in the grass near their mom’s grave allows me to continue to process my grief and remember my friend.
I asked her husband recently if he thought Facebook had helped him cope during the journey.
“I absolutely think Facebook helped,” he told me. “It is cathartic to share where I am. It is helpful, so I have been told, for people who care for you to read what is happening and how they can pray.”
He did have a word of caution for those walking a similar path.
“It can be negative as well,” he said. “Some people can take a beautiful tool and share their negativity and unhelpful world outlook to many through Facebook. For me, it helped, and I have learned to shrug the awkward and hurtful things shared with us.”
This is the first of a two-part series about Facebook and grieving for a loved one lost to mesothelioma or another cancer. You can always comment or share your story on The Mesothelioma Center’s Facebook page.