Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.
There is no graveyard to visit. Her ashes were scattered at sea, a thousand miles away. Instead I visit her Facebook page, her photos tagged on Instagram. The place she feels close and within reach, where I can hold her memory tight; where she is smiling and whole.
She was 23 when it happened—suddenly, in the middle of the night. She’d texted me to say she wanted to drop out of university to become a full-time fairy before she went to bed. Bright and alive in the evening; gone by the morning. Just like that. I stared at that message for weeks.
Perhaps it was her age. Perhaps it was the whiplash-cruelty of her passing, and the mystery of it all, but her death gathered likes and posts and new friends; messages in inboxes, photo collages on her wall. A digital graveyard of her life, where the mourners assembled by her profile page.
The call came in the morning. A tinny, hysterical voice on the phone. “An asthma attack,” they said. I shook my head, I didn’t understand. Was she in the hospital? The response kicked the air from my lungs.
That first day our closest friend sat in a classmate’s garden, holding hands, staring silently at the glorious autumn sun while a plate of well-intended spinach puffs cooled at our feet. I was mad that it was nice outside. It shouldn’t be a beautiful day—the weather should rage and scream. I was glaring up at the cloudless sky when someone handed me a phone with a bitter laugh.
“I saw you just the other day, walking past. RIP babe can’t believe you’re gone.”
And so it begun: her digital legacy, a place where you could point, a moment you could capture in a time stamp. Here, she’s alive. Here, she’s gone. The message was from a girl from high school. We didn’t know her.
My hands hovered over my keyboard, then fell away. I wanted to say something. I left a photo instead. When I look at it, I can hear the laugh that fell from her open mouth; breathing life into this single moment.
Her family didn’t want a burial. There’s no place to visit, I longed to leave her flowers, to kneel by a gravesite and witness her death as a real and viseral thing. I found out her family had scattered her ashes a year later on Facebook—I was at work, clutching a cup of coffee and talking about website metrics. Alive, bored, here. And she was gone, forever. People had liked the post.
Digital graveyards are a funny thing. There are awkward drunk photos from nights out and status updates from high school she’d certainly regret, sitting beside posts of her charity work and complaints about her uni assignments. Photos of a picnic for her birthday.
There were murmurs for a long time that her family might take her Facebook page down. And yet it remained, an imperfect, honest collection of her life. A little uncomfortable. A little strange, and invasive, somehow, knowing that she had never expected her life to suddenly become a static memorial. I would see articles in the news sometimes, about people who had passed away and their loved ones trying to remove their accounts. Anchors on breakfast television programs debated morals and ethics.
Her page is still there. People still wish her happy birthday, counting the years she never had. Sometimes Facebook reminds me we have a memory together—they’re always terrible, but now they make me laugh instead of cry. I don’t know if we have the right to her digital graveyard, to the words she might have taken back if she were here, to the photos she never thought we’d see. But sometimes I login and check my memory against reality, Yes, her hair really was that bright. Yes, that was her smile. Yes, that was the way she titled her head and laughed when she found something really funny. I watch videos when I was worry I don’t remember her voice correctly. I can’t visit her grave, but there is this, in my hand. Her digital legacy.