1.01.2013

When friends die on Facebook


Peter Devin was an Outdoor Retailer Show Director, a Fly Fishing Retailer Show Director, a former client of mine, an outdoor industry colleague, and a friend.    

Not a Christmas Card friend, nor a Wednesday night beer drinking friend, nor even a golfing foursome friend, but a Facebook friend.  He lived a couple thousand miles away in Newport Beach, California, and outside of "industry" events that we were both attending, the only social interaction we had with each other was through social media.     

Peter died yesterday of Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.   When he first told me about it his diagnosis a few years ago about at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show, I knew it was horrible news.   But it wasn't until that night in my hotel room, when I read the full Wikipedia post on the disease and its brutal effects, that I cried.   

The degenerative nature of ALS takes years to take its full toll.    And thanks to Facebook, we watched it all.

When Peter and I talked about the ALS that first time (3 years ago?), his voice was already significantly altered as difficulty speaking and swallowing is part of the drill with ALS.    But on Facebook, his voice was gentle, real and continual.    He wrote about awesome bucket list things like caddying for pros at the Masters, traveling with his family to Italy and fly fishing all sorts of killer waters.  He frequently posted incredible smiling photos of himself with family and friends.   While he certainly had the license to do some gratuitous over-posting, Peter was actually pretty restrained about the frequency of his updates.   

Over time, those status update smiles got thinner and more angular as his neck muscles faded and his head started to tilt.  A wheelchair began to be a constant companion in those photos, and then eventually it changed to a hospital bed.   

I'm not sure exactly when the authorship switched on his Facebook page, but at some point it obviously did.   It's pretty easy to figure out when the posts change to updates about hospital stays, near misses, and eventually a notice of his death and memorial service.

I didn't like anything about Peter's battle with ALS, but I was fond of seeing his posts.    Even the "trivial" ones about things like college football had a certain poignancy to them.    Not because they were meticulously crafted or framed with a colored filter, but because they were real thoughts from a real person who was steadily approaching the end of the line.

Facebook can be dumb, vapid, and wildly self-indulgent.     At times in the last 12 months, I've become increasingly concerned that the overcrafted, over-safe, and over-shallow nature of personal posts are the first hints of a social media death spiral.

But when things actually do matter, Facebook is a brilliant tool for the job.   I'm thankful for that, and I'm thankful to have had at least a small glimpse into Peter's world for the last three years.

Rest in peace, Peter.






1 comment:

  1. What a moving post. And I absolutely agree, for all its faults, Facebook truly brings folks together in times of growth, change and tragedy.

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