A generation ago - or more appropriately, less than a half-generation ago - a person's death was usually grieved by family members and people in his or her physical communities. Oh, you might hear of the death of an old high school or college friend, and have a momentary sense of loss for the person you used to know, but you quickly went about your life and there was probably nothing that triggered the memory of that loss until the next time you were laughing over old photographs.
Today many of us have "friends" whom we have never met - and probably never will. I have lots of friends through several online venues, in addition to those I call "friend" in my neighborhood, from jobs I've held, shirt-tail relatives, and friends of my children. My online "friends" are people who read and comment on this blog from Arizona, Virginia, Wisconsin, and other places. I don't know them in the traditional sense, but I know them from their comments and from their own blogs. They're important to me and add to my life in many ways.
I've had online friends in the past from newsgroups as varied as beta testing, graphics software, and the Episcopal Church. Some were very real to me and as I - or they - dropped out of these various groups, I missed them. Once, several years ago, a particularly personable and friendly member of my graphics newsgroup died. His death was reported by those who knew him well, and though not unexpected, it was still a shock - in the way death always is - and he was mourned by all of us.
As a recent devotee of Facebook, I have upped my online friend quotient dramatically. Some "friends" are family members, I have an old BFF from high school, and one or two others whom I know personally for one reason or another. But many of my Facebook friends have come by way of being friends of friends, and are people with whom I have no connection other than Facebook, and - for some, at least - an affinity for the Episcopal Church.
This morning, I awoke to the very sad news that one of these tangential friends had taken his life, apparently some time on Sunday. He was a friendly, funny man who had some health issues, was in the midst of a divorce, and - according to his last post on Saturday - had not been feeling well. He leaves behind two young children who loved their dad, and whom he adored. He gave no hint that he was planning this drastic action, and had been busy and active this Lenten season in his church.
The posts that are appearing on his Facebook page are testament to the fact that his loss is felt by people across North America, not just in the corner of Tennessee where he lived. When he was born almost 41 years ago, he lived in a much smaller world than the one in which he died, and I'm sure no one ever dreamed that his death would cause sorrow in so many.
With suicide, we who are left wonder why: What pain was so great that you couldn't reach out? What finally sent you to that place in your mind where being dead was preferable to being here? What depths of despair did you reach that even thoughts of your children could not lift you out? And if funny, involved, well-loved Lee could reach that awful place, who else in my life might make that choice?
Hard questions, all, and no answers for any of us. My faith is such that I believe Lee has found at last a freedom from pain, and that he rests this day in the arms of God. So I do not mourn his death so much as I mourn his death-effect. We who knew him online will miss his banter, his wit and wisdom. Those who knew him in life will miss so much more. And his children will miss him for the rest of their lives.
Rest in peace, Lee. You are a part of my life's story.