Like many people on Facebook, I play a couple of games. The makers of these games always try to get you to invite other people to play so they all include an “Invite” button. Some of them even give you suggestions on which friends to invite. From what I can tell, they’re just chosen at random from your list of friends on Facebook. There doesn’t seem to be any great marketing scheme behind the suggestions. They just put a couple of your friends’ names and pictures next to the game and encourage you to invite them to play.
Today the first friend on the list was Jay. I don’t think Facebook knows that Jay was my first real crush back in 9th grade, who is now married with teenagers and is a powerful figure in the Christian music publishing industry. He’s a busy man. I won’t be inviting him to play.
The second person on my list today is Donna. She’s a very sweet and funny woman from my church, and although she might like the game, I don’t invite her. I figure if she wants to play it, she will, and she doesn’t need an invitation from me.
The third person the game suggests I invite is John. Facebook has suggested him before, but I won’t be inviting him to play, either . . . because John died 14 months ago.
John was only thirty years old when he died. Like many people his age, he lived online. When he died suddenly, his Facebook page became the place his friends could connect, share their memories, and grieve their common loss. Reading page after page of posts, John’s parents learned that their son had touched many, many lives, and in ways they had never imagined. It brought them great comfort. They tell me it still does.
Posts are fewer now, but his friends still go there from time to time. On his birthday. On the anniversary of his passing. Comments like “I’ll never forget you, bro” and “I can’t believe it’s been a year; I still miss you every day.” One friend wrote, “I keep seeing funny things that I think you’d think were hilarious.” So he posted the video that made him laugh, even though he knows John won’t see it.
I didn’t know John well. I’d only met him a few times. He was the grown son of parishioners I love, and my tears of grief when he died were for them.
All this comes to mind in an instant. I see his name and the little drawing that he used as his profile picture – an incomplete circle of a face with some scribbled hair – and I am suddenly reminded of his life and his death. His parents do not need such inconsequential reminders. A day never passes without reminders of their loss, reminders of how their world changed one day last June.
I don’t know how it feels. I don’t even like to imagine how it feels. Losing a child is every parent’s nightmare, and if you spend too much time imagining that loss, you will make yourself crazy . . . not to mention what such fear will do to your child.
So I don’t. I don’t think about it much. Oh, I can’t help it sometimes . . . like when I see the bittersweet look on his mother’s face as we welcome a new baby into the church, or when I hear the quaver in his father’s voice when we sing “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.” But otherwise I can put it aside and not be reminded of my own fears of losing the daughter I cherish.
And then there it is – a stupid game suggesting I invite him to play – and I can’t hide from the fact that in life, there are no guarantees. So I cry a little, and I say yet another prayer for John’s parents, and for a woman in my church who lost her son when he was three, and for my aunt and uncle who lost their daughter, and for the friends of my family who lost their son, and for every parent who has lost a child who is still alive, but gone. I pray, because it’s what I know to do, even though it doesn’t feel like much. And I cry, because that’s the other thing I know to do, even though it doesn’t help much. And I keep John as my Facebook friend even though he is gone, so that I will never stop being reminded.
And tonight, when my daughter goes to bed, I will tuck her in even though she claims to be too old for such things. Because I am grateful. Because I can.