On January 9, the day before my birthday, which is January 10, I started gearing up for the thing that happens on Facebook when the site notifies your friends it's your birthday and maybe a third of them come out to say hello. January 9 was my friend Toni's birthday, my high school tennis team doubles partner who I hadn't seen since 1982, and whose Facebook page I hadn't visited for like a year. But I knew she'd been in treatment for cancer, so if it's possible to visit someone's Facebook page gingerly, that's what I did. I tiptoed over having no idea what I was about to see.
The top posts on her wall were all, "Happy birthday! Hope it's a great day!" but that wasn't reassuring at all so I scrolled down a little farther and the posts said, "We miss you so much," and you can see where this is going. I scrolled back to September and saw a post from her daughter that said, "School started. Yay." In July there were posts by people obviously dealing with fresh grief, in June I saw announcements for a memorial service, and then in May there was Toni sitting in a chair with an oxygen tube in her nostrils and a dog on her lap.
Those "Have a great day!" posts on the top of her page made me feel kind of stupid on behalf of the people who left them, because I do that all the time, say happy birthday to someone on Facebook without knowing whether they're alive or dead. I had another friend die last year and I watched his Facebook page turn into kind of a nice place where people unloaded funny photos and told him how they felt about him, even though he'd never write back. The other friend of mine who died wasn't on Facebook, so he's having a sort of old-fashioned death with just a tombstone and me bothering his sister to find out what happened.
Anyway, the next day, when I started getting a few Happy Birthdays on my own Facebook page, I started responding to each and every one of them, and do you know why? To prove I wasn't dead. It was my conscious and maybe somewhat urgent intention to show everyone on Facebook that I was still alive. I kept my responses short, just little things like, "Hi!" and "Thanks!" though if someone wrote something a little longer or more personal I'd respond in a longer and more personal fashion. Unsurprisingly, I ended up having a really nice time on Facebook chatting with people I hadn't spoken to in years, and I plan to continue doing it every year because I want you to know that the year I don't respond to your happy birthday greetings, that's how you'll know I'm dead. (Or that my account was hacked.) I know there are online death services that will -- I'm not sure what they do, actually, e-mail everyone in your contacts list when you die? But I'm too cheap and too busy at the moment, so Facebook will have to do.