When I learned about the recent and sudden passing of one of my oldest friends, I was in a Mediterranean restaurant in a small Spanish town, staring at a menu I couldn't understand on layered langauge levels through a Vaseline lens of tears and tiny eyes. I had just read the news on social media. And there I was in public, viewing a public forum, experiencing emotions we used to mostly reserve for "private," or at least when we were not among friends and family experiencing similar grief, confined them to our showers or bathtubs or tightly enclosed safe spaces where we could bawl our eyes out and hear our own wails echo off the walls.
Already people were posting condolences and remembrances to her Facebook page, which have become funeral and memorial guest books we can all peer into at anytime. In some cultures, mourning is so powerful and huge people pound their fists on coffins in rage and their screams of indignation can ripple through city blocks. In others, there aren't even equivalent words for "grief" or "mourning." There is just "sorrow." But I swear it's universal, no matter what any scholars say. And I still swear everyone—including animals—feels it deep into their bones.
How we mourn and grieve in America has changed over the last few years. There's a certain protocol: Share your story in a public forum, like Facebook, and then, because you are empty and at a loss, continue to come back and haunt the page to find some sort of solidarity in memories and likes.
My friend and I had a collection of Mad Libs the length of a swimming pool. I wanted to post on her page snapshots of those and all of their ridiculous scattological humor. I wanted to post pictures of our arms that we shaved in junior high, because that's what we thought "adult women" did. I wanted to post samples of songs and prank calls we recorded on cassette tapes. I wanted to post that "even when my dad was a total jerk, you loved him. Because you always knew how to love no matter what." And that even when I was a jerk, distant and far away, you still loved me the most of any friend I've known.
Instead, I didn't post anything. I refreshed her page over and over again. I read new condolences and people's personal stories and the confusion they felt over losing someone so suddenly, so young. I refreshed again. And again. Like I was waiting for her to return. I saw new photos of us people posted pop up, ones of the two of us from high school where I was on crutches and she is hugging me so tight she is holding me up. Our hair, it was so terrible.
For the next two hours, I read her page and looked through old pictures as I sat alone and sobbed in public at a Spanish-Mediterranean resuruant where I accidentally ordered chicken wings. I hate messy chicken wings. Especially when I have cried into all the napkins they gave me and I am too much of a greasy, sticky, sobbing mess to ask for more. She would've thought it was the funniest thing ever.