Post 5.16 - Grief in the Digital Age

I never met Michael Walsh in person. Our first connection was on LiveJournal, some time in late 2004 or early 2005. He was a friend of a friend, as most of my contacts on LJ have always been. His comments to a friend's journal piqued my interest, or my comments piqued his. In any case, we started reading the other's blog/journal, and this was how we got to know each other.

I learned he was a librarian, living in Detroit with his partner in a house they owned together. He was originally from Ohio, and had an older sister named Ann. He loved food and sharing "food porn". He would take trips to see friends and it would be as much about what he ate as who he went to see. He was very social, and his companionship was valued by all who knew him. My view into his world and into the person he was came solely through LiveJournal at first, and then in 2008, through Facebook. I knew about his co-workers, the people he admired, the people he loved, the trials and tribulations of his relationship with his partner and those who came after, and what little things made him smile. We were both teenagers of the 1980s, so there was this wealth of common ground provided by pop culture for us to reflect upon.

He was always upbeat, no matter what was going on. He was always supportive if there was something going on with anyone else that might be considered trying or difficult, even if only to the person involved. He wasn't afraid to let you know that he cared, and it was always genuine.

But here I am, someone who never met him mourning his loss yesterday. I am one among many.

The word came first from another friend of Mike's who had posted a picture of him, noting his loss. Then a review of his FB profile as more messages came pouring in. No details, just shared grief, from real-world and online contacts alike. Many who knew him in the real world changed their profile pictures and banners to include his image, creating something of a viral memorial.

All relationships in life are what we make them. There are people reading this now who are people I know in the real world, people I once knew in the real world, and people I have never met. I have "online friends" that I may never meet, but in the final analysis, the feelings of friendship and closeness to some where the effort has been made is no less real or tangible as those I will see and interact with away from the screen. In some ways, online friendships can become even more intimate, since we generate personal content out of our hearts and minds in often the purest of forms. We share things more impulsively and instantaneously, both wisely and unwisely at times. But in any case, lives are touched. We cheer for each other, we laugh together, and we take the journey together, even if it is only in text and information we share.

Michael and I were not particularly close -- he was just a good person, and the thought of him made me smile. I wanted him to succeed in all he wanted and to live a long and happy life. Even as someone I never met, his death was shock, and I could feel the very real grief just below the surface, wondering if it was appropriate that I should feel this way. But Michael's life touched mine and I cared. That's all it comes down to.

And I know the greater world is diminished with Michael's loss. We need more people to make us smile as easily as he did.

Cross-posted to Facebook and LiveJournal on my personal accounts.

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