A funny thing happened yesterday. I learned about the death of my wife's grandfather, a man I deeply respect, from a post by one of my wife's cousins on Facebook.
And I didn't like it a bit. It seemed thoughtless, almost but not quite rude, to put it on Facebook.
And yet it wasn't. There was nothing wrong with what the cousin, a bright, much younger man who's been wired into the internet most of his life, wrote. It was a simple tribute to his grandfather as a grandfather, friend, and mentor. The man had a large family, was a World War II veteran who fought in France, had a good career as a high school principal, and lived a long, rich life. His memory deserves tribute.
And yet at first, just for a second or two, I thought it might be a poor joke. One doesn't discuss some things, especially dark things, on Facebook. Facebook is for fluff. Photos of cats and the like.
The telephone is for death.
I didn't like learning about this death on Facebook. I didn't like knowing about it hours before my wife knew about it. I didn't like knowing about it before my mother-in-law, his daughter, knew about it. I'm quite conversant with the internet for my age, having used it since the 1980s, but learning of a family death through Facebook seems wrong. Almost as wrong as learning of it through email.
To: <family listerv>
Subject: Grandpa is dead.
He died painlessly, in his sleep. Grandma needs our help. Funeral's Friday. See you then.
There are some communications, it seems, that are best handled in person, or by telephone, by voice if they can't be said in person. I may be an irrational curmudgeon to think so, but it would never occur to me to post a tribute to my grandmother on Facebook if I weren't absolutely certain that all of my relatives, some of whom are Facebook friends, already knew about it.
Am I alone in feeling this way? I don't know. I'd never gotten such a shocking communication through a social network, or even email. I learned of 9/11 by telephone. I learned of the Challenger explosion by a public address announcement in high school. Facebook seems tawdry, because it isn't, hasn't been, and can never be a part of my everyday life. I haven't grown up with the internet. I'm not a fish. I had to learn to swim, and I had to learn it in a pool before I could enter the ocean.
And while this won't be so jarring the next time it happens (death of course, will always remain jarring), I don't believe I'll ever get used to it.