Will I be able to check my Facebook page in heaven?

I have become just a tad bit obsessed with the thought of what happens to our social media pages after we die.

I know, morbid, right? This thought isn’t completely out of the blue. I first started thinking about it when I heard about a situation where the parents of a man who had died unexpectedly sued the wife for taking down his facebook page, which they considered community property after his death. She didn’t like having the reminder there, but his parents found some kind of solace by having access to his photos and status updates online.Facebook has actually struggled on how to best handle this as well. Previously their policy was to automatically remove the profile of the deceased one month after he or she has died, preventing the profile from being used for communal mourning. However,  Facebook amended that policy in 2009, in the wake of the VA Tech shooting, “We first realized we needed a protocol for deceased users after the Virginia Tech shooting, when students were looking for ways to remember and honor their classmates,” says Facebook spokeswoman Elizabeth Linder. The new policy places deceased members’ profiles in a “memorialization state.” Facebook’s Privacy Policy regarding memorialization says, “If we are notified that a user is deceased, we may memorialize the user’s account. In such cases we restrict profile access to confirmed friends, and allow friends and family to write on the user’s Wall in remembrance. We may close an account if we receive a formal request from the user’s next of kin or other proper legal request to do so. Once that is completed, the user will cease showing up in Facebook’s suggestions, and information like status updates won’t show up in Facebook’s news feed, the stream of real-time user updates that is the site’s centerpiece.”

On a personal level, the Facebook pages of the few people I know who have died since the explosion of social media remain intact and a place where people frequently submit personal messages of peace and hope, especially around the holidays and their birthday. I guess it’s not much different than lighting a candle and saying a prayer, except this form of communicating with the dead is viewable to all who have access to the person’s Wall (which if they did not properly set their privacy settings before dying could be anyone and everyone).

So, that’s what happens with Facebook…what about your e-mail accounts? Would you want a loved one to have access to your email files? Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail all will send a family member a CD of your email folders as long as you provide them with the required information (death certificate, power of attorney and such). Similarly, Twitter will provide an archive of a deceased person’s tweets to credible requests. I don’t know about you, but I am taking mental inventory now of what’s in my email folders. Anything I should delete before anything unfortunate happens?

Technology tends to progress faster than we can plan for the ramifications and consequences of having such open access to people and information. Now, we are seeing companies like Legacy Locker who will store your “digital legacy” in a secure place to be passed on per your wishes in the event of your death (for a fee, naturally). Having contingency plans added to your will for the digital content you leave behind surely isn’t so uncommon these days too.

When I went to my Grandmother’s house after she passed away last year, I was so moved by the many Valentine’s Day Cards, anniversary cards, Christmas cards and birthday cards between my grandmother and grandfather exchanged between the 40s-70s. The cards were so beautiful, and the messages, even when brief, so touching.  I never knew my grandfather and felt like these cards were a little window to his character. Would my grandchildren get the same joy over seeing the first tentative e-mails sent between me and their grandfather? Or the sweet love letters in electronic form that have taken the place of traditional letter writing?

Hot Topic.

Bullying is a hot topic these days. It’s all over the news and in the papers. Stories all over the place about children who hurt themselves or others in response to bullying.

I know a little something about this, since as a young girl I was bullied for being chubby by a couple of brothers who lived a few doors down. We rode the same bus together, swam on the same swim team and every year of elementary school I was in the same class as at least one of them. It really was torture, stepping on the bus everyday knowing what I faced ahead. I wasn’t equipped to handle it. I referenced one of the episodes of teasing here on the blog back in 2006 telling the story of failed valentines’ days.

And then I saw my bully on Oprah.

Over 10 years ago, J.S., the older brother, decided to take a bunch of tanning pills to make himself look black. He went down south to live out the experiment of living his life as a black man. He lasted merely a week, apparently crippled by the discrimination he faced as a man of color. I find this somewhat ironic.

I had heard about the segment years ago, but never saw it before last night. Oprah  showed the clip again on a recent episode recapping previous stories she had done on the issue of race. It really was shocking to me. And I did something I never thought I would do. I found him on Facebook and wrote him a note. 

I don’t want to post the entire note here, but I asked if he remembered me and I recounted to him the pain he caused me in the constant bullying over the years and the effect it had on my life–both negative and positive. I didn’t get dramatic or go into lots of detail, I presented it concisely and with a somewhat removed tone. No blubbering. No accusations. This is how I wrapped it up:

I was really surprised about what I learned of your racial experiment on Oprah. I don’t know why I felt the need to sit down and write to you after so many years, maybe it is crazy since it’s not like I sit around thinking about this any more. Don’t get me wrong, I am not reaching out to you to berate you or accuse you of anything. I am not looking for redemption, an apology or even a response. I bet you don’t even remember any of this– I was probably too sensitive, and maybe you were just “boys being boys”. But for some reason I just wanted you to know about it.

I really didn’t know what to expect in return, if anything. Would he lash out at me for over-reacting? Would he ignore it? I decided before I sent it that the response didn’t matter. I said what I wanted to say. I didn’t write him with any expectations. But, to my surprise, within an hour of sending it he wrote me back. This is what he said:

Hello Terra,
I remember you and your brother and sister well. The house you lived in is still the Walker House to my mind. I do remember teasing you and am glad that you wrote me cause I feel very guilty about it. I was often callous and cruel with my words. Probably still am sometimes. I’m a writer now and sometimes think to myself that is where I learned about the positive and negative power words can have. But feel very bad about the people who paid the price so I could learn that. I apologize for hurting you and wish you all the best.

What do you think? I am still processing this since it all happened last night. The response is nice to see, I am genuinely glad he replied and actually apologized. But what happened, happened and those scars may never fully heal.

I think I got more out finding the courage to write him than getting a response. I feel good about that.