For me the holidays are bittersweet. The incidence of death increases around the holiday season, and although that may seem like an anecdotal myth, statistics have shown this. It was true in my years working as a nurse, and also in my own personal experience. For example, my father died more than 20 years ago on December 21st a month after my husband's grandmother passed away. About the same time the following year, my nursing mentor, Lynda, committed suicide; and more recently a dear friend, Jim, passed away after a short illness.
There has been speculation as to why death might be more common during the holiday season. Some claim that it has to do with the psychological stress of the holidays, others claim it might be connected to loneliness, some say that those who are already sick, make the decision to move on so that loved ones can celebrate the season without the burden of caretaking.
So, it makes sense to consider this time of year a time to honor our loved ones, our special relationships, and a good time to connect with old friends who we have not seen in a while. It has been said that, "People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime." The idea is that even though some of our relationships end, we should not consider it to be a loss, but rather, we should be thankful to have had the experience in the first place. Even if we have had relationships that did not end well, chances are there was a reason the person entered our life, and that there is a lesson to be learned from the encounter.
I have read that one of the biggest regrets of those who are facing death is not having kept in contact with old friends. Even though social media sites, such as Facebook, have made connections more possible, it is not always possible. For instance, it is particularly more difficult to find women who do not keep their maiden names. Some months ago, I spotted a familiar name from my teen years on Facebook. My childhood friend, Tamar, was never married so it was easy enough to notice her unique name. On her wall she wrote, "California Dreaming for my 60th!" My eyes lit up and I responded to her announcement. I asked if she remembered me, and she said, "Of course I do." I told her that I lived in California and it would be great to see her. I did not think she would follow-up, but she did. We spent a delightful weekend together in Santa Barbara.
Ordinarily, Tamar's 60th birthday would have gone unacknowledged by me, although every October 17th for the past 40 years I wondered about her. We met at the International Teen Camp in Lausanne, Switzerland when we were both sixteen. Our parents were trying to bring some culture into our lives and get us out of the heat of New York. In Switzerland, we were roommates and immediately clicked; we both had similar sensibilities and senses of humor. It was the summer of 1969 -- the year of the first moon landing -- and we were those typical teen girls interested in anything but science and moon landings. We loved reading, art and socializing, giggling and flirting with the cute boys. On that special day in July we all sat on the floor of the rather large gymnasium and watched the first moon landing with teens from around the world on a small TV hanging in the gymnasium's upper corner. As Americans we were literally and figuratively "sitting on top of the world."
Life was simpler in the 1960s, there were no computers, cell phones, or text messages. The only technology resided in telephones, small black and white TVs and transistor radios. Some of us owned record players for 33s and 45s as well as tape cassette players. I distinctly remember the entire camp and staff on numerous occasions seated in that same gymnasium singing Beatles songs, even though I am certain that some of the non-English speaking campers did not understand the lyrics. And, it was normal to not communicate with our parents for the entire summer. If a parent received a phone call from overseas, it meant that something was wrong. Congenial communication was done the old-fashioned way -- with those blue outlined airmail letters and scenic postcards.
During my adult years, I have made some good friends living in Southern California, but there is something special about reconnecting with old friends and reminiscing about years gone by. This is especially significant as I approach my sixtieth birthday next year. What Tamar and I have both come to learn through our reconnection is how little we both changed. She still saw me as a grown-up hippie, and I saw her as smart and accepting, a good communicator with a great sense of humor. I was able to locate a photo taken of her in our room in Switzerland. She had a pillow on her bed that said, "Do Not Enter." On the back of one of her photos which she taped on the wall behind my bed, she wrote, "Dearest Diana: In the short time that we've known each other, you've showed me what it is really like to love. I can't remember what life was like before meeting you -- it could not have been any good. It really is true love. I love you, Tamar." Her words warmed my heart then and still do. When we come into someone's life we have no idea the impact we will have on them. What an excellent reminder this was, of the importance of being kind and compassionate because we never know what the future holds for us, as individuals, and in relationship with one another.
On Instagram (iPhone and Android, free), users take photos from their daily lives and have the option to apply a variety of filters to enhance or touch-up their images. Users then have the ability to share their images on various social network sites as well as Instagram's own social network. Users also have the ability to "like" other users' photos and share with their own friends. BEST FOR: The application is best for those wanting to share the daily images of their lives. As Instagram has grown in popularity, many users can share their photos on multiple social networks. It's a great way to share your latest craft project or vacation adventures with your family and friends. TIPS & TRICKS: Photos from Instagram don't have to stay in the online realm. Users now have the ability to easily turn their filtered photos into actual photos on canvas using CanvasPop or even into desk calendars with the app Calendargram (iPhone, free), which would make great gifts for all of your loved ones.
Google+ is a social networking site that encompasses a variety of features, including Google Hangouts, an online spot that facilitates group chat and the "+1 button" that allows users to show your personal endorsement of an informative article or an interesting item. Google+ allows you to categorize your contacts into a variety of groups called circles. With circles, you can choose what groups can see what you post and what you share. If you want to talk about a family get-together, you can share it with your friends and family circle, but not your professional colleagues. BEST FOR: Google+ is ideal for those who want to share content-rich information. It has features for sharing personal documents and photos, articles and can connect users via text chat and video chat. The social media network also has over 40 games where you can connect with friends and share your scores with your different circles. TIPS & TRICKS: Google Docs has recently been integrated into Hangouts, the video chat feature of Google+. Now users can pull up their documents while using the video chat feature and you can even share your screen to make for a productive and basically face-to-face conference.
Pinterest is a virtual pin board where users can "pin" images on a variety of topics, such as home décor, recipes, and apparel. Pinterest users then create boards to house the images, so users may have one specific to anniversary planning, birthday parties, favorite recipes or quotes, for example. The cyber-version of "vision-boards," users have the opportunity to browse and share images. BEST FOR: If you're constantly surfing the web to collect ideas, it can be difficult to remember every site you visited or how to keep up with all of your bookmarks. With Pinterest, the "pinning" can be added to your internet browser easily and you can start collecting all of your favorite images. TIPS & TRICKS: Need some quick gift ideas for your grandchild's first birthday party or your son's promotion and not sure what you're looking for? Pinterest has segmented categories for price ranges in their gift section and you can quickly click on the image to take you to the product information and you can order right from your mobile device or computer.
Twitter is an online, micro-blogging social network channel that allows users to share and read posts up to 140 characters. Users can follow friends, celebrities, news distributors, companies and other organizations to keep up with daily news, the "it" celebrity or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. BEST FOR: Twitter is a great way to quickly receive news and catch updates from your friends, family, favorite sports team or news outlet. You can create different lists to separate your personal friends from the entertainment world from breaking international news. TIPS & TRICKS: To help you create lists, Twitter has a suggestions feature that provides categories such as music, fashion, technology and government. With these suggestions, you can have a complete list to keep you up-to-date on these areas. Also remember, watch what you tweet, especially if your information is public. News and broadcast networks could feature you on their show if you interact with them online.
With "more than 10 billion visits per month and the Facebook user hitting the site an average of 68.7 times every month," according to The Financial Brand, most people are familiar with the social networking site. A recent study from AARP amongst people age 50+ showed that 23% of those surveyed either used or frequently visited Facebook, which was by far the most popular social network amongst their age group. One thing to keep in mind is that Facebook has seen changes recently with Timeline, meaning users need to familiarize themselves with the different privacy policies that accompany the modifications. BEST FOR: To best use Facebook, remember to keep in mind what you want to share. Check your privacy settings and if you need help, remember that Geek Squad is available 24/7 online at geeksquad.com to help you navigate the changes. TIPS & TRICKS: Did you know you can now use Facebook to connect you and your friends through text message? If your Wi-Fi or internet connectivity is off, you can still contact your friends and family via Facebook. You can turn on text messaging so your contacts can use Facebook Messages to send you texts. Also, once you have activated text messaging through your Facebook account you can send a text to 32665 (FBOOK) and in the message, write msg and the name of the person you'd like to Facebook message and it will send to their inbox! For example: msg Joe Smith How are you?
LinkedIn is a social networking tool focused on professional networking and building business relationships. The tool can be used to network and has informational tabs that compile your personal industry's top news for the day for quick reference. BEST FOR: LinkedIn can be used to connect professionally and also as a supplement to the traditional resume and business card. You have the ability to expand and personalize your descriptions and skills that you sometimes leave off in hard copies. You even have the option of adding a video onto your LinkedIn profile to give you an extra boost in impressions. TIPS & TRICKS: Frequently check your LinkedIn to see what your contacts and colleagues are up to. It's a great way to stay connected professionally.
Watch who you "Friend" and "Follow." On many social media sites, people can request to follow or friend you. If you're not comfortable with strangers having access to your social media information, depending on the social media tool, you could have the option to allow them access to pre-approved sections of your profile. Privatize your profile. Geek Squad can show you how to take advantage of the privacy settings offered by social media sites. By marking your page as private, people have to request you as a friend or ask for your approval in order to "follow" you on Twitter or view your complete Facebook profile. Social media websites generally undergo changes a few times every year, and most of those facelifts affect privacy settings in some way - though users may not be directly alerted of those specific changes. If you notice changes on social-networking site homepages, it's a good idea to revisit your privacy settings, perform a quick internet search to learn more or ask a Geek Squad Agent to give you the scoop.
Beware of your posts! Always remember that any content you post on the internet will be there forever, for anyone to read, store and republish. Remember that this information is stored somewhere, likely in multiple places. Avoid sharing personal information. License plate numbers, house numbers or other addresses as well as specific names of schools, workplaces or towns should be not shared on the internet. Information can be used like pieces in a puzzle to paint a bigger picture of you. Always take a second look. Just because the screen says your friend John has sent you information doesn't mean John is actually the person who did. Scams often run rampant on social media sites, so beware of any unusual messages. For example, hackers disguise messages to your contacts claiming to need money after being robbed or having lost money in a foreign country. Trust your gut. If it doesn't "seem right" it probably isn't. Things free or too good to be true are just that. Social networking sites have been a breeding ground for fake antivirus software ads, so avoid any type of free antivirus offers.
Follow Diana M. Raab on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dianaraab