Digital Memorials

It wasn’t shortly after learning about KimChi’s death that I was inundated with social media notifications. People were messaging me, writing loving posts, and sharing photos they had taken with KimChi. For the next few days, Facebook became a confirmation for me. It confirmed that we shared certain moments together. Confirmed that while I was physically apart, we were always leaving comments and jabbing jokes at one another via the internet.

Eleven days after KimChi died, I setup a blog and Facebook group to keep her memory alive digitally. This was something that came naturally to me and was also a response to the alarming number of people that I found using Facebook to grieve.

Blogging and taking photos of KimChi gave me a sense of control over my situation that I lacked before. It allowed me to confront the reality of her death and to gain a sense of agency in this new world. For the most part, I could channel my emotions and memories of her into a designated when/where/why scenario. When I travel, or see something that reminds me of her, then I can stop what I am doing and engage with her memory when I choose.

Of course, there are those days and times that her absence and memories are not willfully recalled. (Like when my sister took me out for drinks, I had too much, and in my existential-like crisis cried about how KimChi was no longer alive. But that’s an embarrassing tale for another day. (; )

I want to share my journey using blogging, social media, and the internet as a forum to grieve, celebrate, and create new memories.

My hope when I created the KimChi’s Big World Tumblr blog was that people could grieve together, submit photos, and extend the wishes she held in life. One of her sincerest wishes that she always shared with me was to travel. And that gave me an idea.

On this blog, I curate images that are taken by people in various locations around the world. Most of the pictures show a hand holding a photo of KimChi in the foreground with some landmark in the background. I note the photographer’s name, location, and date taken.

KimChiPisa

“The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy.” Taken by Sam O’Brien. Received July 6th, 2012. Source.

This style came to me from following blogs such as Instagram’s GirlEatWorld or from watching the AT&T Superbowl commercial ‘Sweet Pea’. The focus of the image is typically a photo of KimChi, but the background is usually so impressive that it leaves you with this obscure feeling, ‘Which is more powerful: foreground or background?’ and this question prompts further inquiry into the story of the girl in the photo.

In our high school art class, we would (poorly) plan our future travel adventures. Backpacking through Europe, teaching English in Southeast Asia, driving cross-country, and more. There was not a destination that discouraged us because the trip with one another was the destination. So, her digital memorial would have to involve traveling. At least, this is what made sense to me.

So the KimChi’s Big World blog is more like an art project than a traditional blog. I recently created this blog, With One’s Next Breath, to focus on death in a more general sense. It is also a chance for me to express myself, ideas, and feelings in writing.

KimChi-Remembering-Facebook-DigitalMemorial

Facebook updated KimChi’s personal profile page to read “Remembering Kim Chi Son.”

Now, wait a second. How did Facebook know that she died? The likely answer is that someone submitted to Facebook’s ‘Report a Deceased Person’ to switch KimChi’s page into a memorialized status.

This leads to the next question: How can Facebook know what my wishes are in regards to my profile in the event of my death?

Well, as it turns out, Facebook has a FAQ to answer this and to let you chose “in advance” if you prefer that your profile be memorialized or deleted.

So, if you are interested in setting your account to be memorialzed or deleted when you die, make sure to visit your settings! As social media grows its user base, so too will it grow its number of deceased users. My generation will be setting the groundwork for grieving digitally.

(FYI… Facebook automatically sets your account to be memorialized. It’s up to you to either; (a) select a legacy contact, or (b) set your account to be deleted. I selected my sister as my legacy contact and she was quite surprised when Facebook notified her! So, if you designate a legacy contact I suggest giving them a heads up!)

But the decision on keeping or dismantling a loved one’s Facebook account is very personal. Many social media users see their timelines, photos, and events as validation for their experiences, accomplishments, and relationships. Some do not want a reminder to be casually shared on their timelines. This is a topic that demands reflection as social media platforms enter into a stage of increasing numbers of deceased users.

Digital memorials are a new ground for us to explore. There is no reason for us to separate death from everyday life. So, it only makes sense that we begin to understand how we will use social media to cope.

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April Seventh – The day my best friend died.

I dislike using the term ‘lost‘ in reference to the death of a loved one. This post’s title could easily have read, “April Seventh – the day I lost my best friend.” But I never lost her. She’s not a spare sock somewhere underneath the washing machine. She’s not the key to the drawer in the old basement desk. She’s not wandering an unfamiliar place trying to gain her bearings. She’s still here because I continue her story and memory. So, no, KimChi is not lost.

Language is strange though, because I equally feel that I can use the term ‘losing a loved one’ or ‘the loss of a loved one’ without any reserve. I guess ‘lost‘ is too harsh for me. It’s an abrupt end. It’s a cause without hope. Los-TTT. The way it leaves my mouth leaves me feeling like I just bit my tongue.

“But your title reads, ‘April Seventh – The day my best friend died.’  That sounds pretty final to me!” Death is a human condition that deserves to be recognized and respected. She is in a state of death, but she is not lost. That’s the difference for me.

So on April 7, 2012, my best friend, my sister, died in a hiking accident in central Kentucky.

In our high school art class, we would (poorly) plan our future travel adventures. Backpacking through Europe, teaching English in Southeast Asia, driving cross-country, and more. There was not a destination that discouraged us because the trip with one another was the destination.

To practice our eventual epics, we would spend 1-3 hours in a car each weekend discovering new areas and nearby cities. Purposefully losing direction so that we could stumble upon new state roads. From our hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, we were always taking trips to Cincinnati, Lexignton, Chicago, and more. These trips were so casual and spontaneous, that we never planned them ahead of time.

And the same almost happened on April 7, 2012.

I was driving to southern Kentucky with my mother to visit extended family members. Almost forty minutes outside of my home, I received a call from KimChi.

“I’m ten minutes away from your house. We are going hiking outside Berea, Kentucky!” It wasn’t a request, but a statement of fact. I suppose I forgot to tell her that I would be gone that weekend.

It was at my aunt’s house, after a lovely lunch, that I my cell phone rang. The caller ID read “KimChi.” But it was a voice other than her own.

Who is on this phone?

This prank is kind of dumb.

Why would you, a stranger, prank me from KimChi’s cell phone?

Where is KimChi’s snickering voice in the background?

Maybe this isn’t a prank.

This guy sounds serious.

What is happening?

That’s when my mother took the phone away from me to figure out what had me looking upset. It was just a prank. No reason for her to be concerned.

It wasn’t a prank. This was real. I could tell because my mother cupped her mouth and tears ran down her eyes as she shook her head in confirmation to me. I felt what people talk about when their heart drops out of their body to the floor. The rest of the day was a blur.

The worst part is that this is one of my strongest memories of KimChi. It’s not the strongest. But I wish that I could remember more of our silly times together. Spontaneous phone calls are what I miss the most.

 

KimChiLouisville
First submission to KimChi’s Big World in Louisville, KY.

I decided that we will continue to travel together. And not just us. Her and all of her friends and family. I created “KimChi’s Big World” a digital travel memorial. This is how my journey with Death began. The memorial is for our travels to continue, but also to keep her memory fresh for her family, friends, and classmates. Submissions are welcome from anyone.

This blog is going to explore myself and other individuals/groups in efforts to cope with grief; how people overcome strong emotions that come from the loss of a loved one; where people’s relationship with death moves toward; why people reshape their lives in response to experiences with death; and so much more.

I urge that you will join me in contemplating the human condition of death and thinking about how we, as humans, react to events of death.

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