For about four years now, I've kept an account on Facebook. It's been good; I've generally enjoyed my time spent on the site. I've reconnected with old friends, sold books and directed readers over to my Huffington Post essays. I've seen the engagement announcements of my friends, read about their marriages and break-ups -- I've seen their newborn babies and photos of their beloved pets.
I've also witnessed another strange natural occurrence: the death of friends.
So, what happens when you die on Facebook? I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg foresaw the inevitability of the public actually dying off the site. Nonetheless, when you die on Facebook, mourning is nothing like it is in real life.
Right before my eyes, I saw friends on Facebook go from living, breathing creators of peppy status updates to unreachable wall owners who will never post again; their pages left to a mournful public, filled with both dear friends and casual acquaintances who, for days, months and even years after, will drop by to post prayers and recanted memories on the wall of the deceased.
In most cases, there is an announcement. Some friend or family member will take the responsibility of delivering the sad news to a group of friends. If, prior to death, an arrangement was made that allowed for a designated person to fully access the account, then the page could be maintained indefinitely.
When you die on Facebook, you get a Facebook funeral -- and everyone attends. That's how it's different than in real life. And interestingly enough, everyone who comments is kind. Tearful goodbyes fill the pages, along with beautiful recollections of time spent together -- moments that will live forever as written words on the page of a friend who left us. Even the distant friends come out, if only for the chance to say a blessing or to recount how much they admired the person from afar.
But the most breathtaking of all things to notice on the page of someone who has died is what you might read if you backtracked through all the mournful messages -- your friend's very last words on Facebook. Unlike their very last words in real life, these words will remain on the Internet, well, until the end of Facebook -- just as their pages will remain open and available for comment as long as we remember them and care to drop by for nostalgic reminiscence.
The last published words of a person who dies on Facebook are left for interpretation. Whether clever or mundane, there is one thing one can almost know for certain: these are not the words our friend assumed would be his or her last.
There was a time, not so long ago, where the idea of a "last status update" wasn't a part of our worlds, but with the importance of Facebook in so many people's lives -- it is now somewhat of a common thing, though not necessarily something someone plans.
And so, while many of us still discount the relevance our own use of social media, the truth is, we're using it furiously and some of the most important moments of our lives are captured forever in things like status updates and photo uploads. We are literally living and dying on Facebook.
Perhaps not for all, but for some people -- social media is reality. For many, Facebook IS real life. It's not sad; it's not a statement on how anti-social the people of the world really are...it's just what happened when technology met social behavior. People share their lives on Facebook, and other people -- their friends -- actively (and often times, joyfully) participate in this share, often times sharing back.
It's real and it's here to stay. And, if it lasts long enough, in time, we will read about the deaths of our friends -- and we will comment.
When you die on Facebook, your remaining page lives on. It keeps you remembered. And those who visit are like mourners who light candles for you in the form of kind words.
For all the friends who have passed...
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