Facebook smiles

Today I am reading the facebook posts on my late family member’s wall. I cannot attend the funeral, and my parents think it would be a bit weird to leave a cell phone on in the chance that I could hear part of it. So I’m dressing up as if I were going to be there, and reading her facebook wall and looking at pictures of her. It’s a bizarre thing to read posts on the wall of someone who is no longer with us. They are often not addressed to her, but to her family, or they reference her in the third person. They talk about how wonderful she was – and she was, it is all truth – and they speak of the sadness and emptiness left where she lived in our lives.

Then I pass the date of her death, and I see a completely different set of posts. It is like a hard line has been drawn, a wall has been erected. Seven days before she died, and for the five months prior, her wall is full of affectionate messages, funny videos sent to cheer her up, JPEGs with inspirational messages, cancer research drives, and pictures of each outing, each meet up for coffee, each birthday dinner, each child’s party, everything she attended recently. There are hugs with her children, and pictures of beautiful flowers sent to her house. Further back she has posts that she put in, of the crafting projects she completed, of pictures that she took on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, of her own inspirational quotations. Happy announcements. Links to family. No tales of suffering, no hint of fatigue, just the joyful and the determined. There is no other sign of her troubles. It is only by this pointed lack of negative feelings and events that one could tell how sick she really was – how much every post was a triumph over the disease.

Months and months ago, in a tiny little jpeg – thumbnail size – is one chink in the ever shining optimism: “Life, I’ve had enough bullshit to last a while. Can we take a little break please?”

The further back we go, the more subtle the situation gets. Quotes about motherhood and the gifts of children. Pictures with family. Suddenly, the first two posts: A cancer ribbon, and a friend who posted, discreetly, “Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there. Thinking of you.”

And now these posts dissolve, seamlessly, into the posts of everyday life. Skating. Family. Birthdays. Funny cartoons. In some respects, there are no differences. The subject matter is still her family, and her humour. The only difference I see is in the photos. In the ones before – variously covered in face paint with her grandchild, with friends, in front of the Christmas tree – when she smiles, she laughs. She laughs and throws her head back with pure joy.

Later, after the date when I know she knows, her smiles are more complicated. She is sad, and a bit lonely, and sometimes very tired. But she is still smiling. Surrounded by her family, she smiled on, and on and on until there were no more pictures. The last picture on her wall was posted by her daughter. It is a portrait. It was taken not long after the posts began to change. She is smiling here too. If you knew her, and you looked closely, and you saw other pictures from this day, you would know that she had tears in her eyes, hidden by soft lighting and glasses. She had just hugged one of her daughters, and they were crying because they loved each other, and because nothing is harder than saying goodbye. But then she sat down and posed and smiled anyway, beautiful and bright.

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