We exchanged the occasional comment on Facebook, laughed at each others drunken photos and were prompted to remember each others' birthdays with helpful reminders from Facebook. In fact, having her so close by in cyberspace probably diminished the motivation to make contact in person - why make the effort of setting up an appointment, leaving the house, turning up to wait for someone and keep a conversation going when you can "poke" them and send a quick "Hi Howya doing?" message, sit back and turn your attention to other things, all without leaving the comfort of the sofa?
But now she has gone. The window of opportunity to go out for a drink together has closed. She won't be coming to my birthday party. I can't text her and apologise for not keeping in closer touch. She's gone.
Like so many others, I posted a message on her Facebook wall. The illusion of an active profile is seductive - the message is sent, I have told my friend what she meant to me and assured her that she will be missed. The act of posting a message is a familiar communications medium, you write a message, the recipient reads it and responds.
There's just one problem with this scenario. The term "communications medium" holds an unintentional irony. In this case, a medium would be needed to convey the message and any response. She isn't going to see my - or anyone else's - post telling her that she was a great friend and how bereft we feel. She isn't going to be logging into Facebook ever again. The mourners are talking to ourselves, to each other. We cannot talk to her, because she cannot listen.
So, why do I feel the tiniest shred of comfort for having written the message? Is it the illusion of communication; allowing me to cling to the hope that if she continues to exist somewhere, she is aware of the void she has left behind her; that she appreciates how much she was loved when she was among us? Or do I feel the warmth of inclusion, having added my voice to the hypnotic chant of love and loss that is swelling on this particular Wall? Or is the illusion more shallow; that simply by sending a message has triggered the assumption that it will be received, and therefore my friend must still be here?
Her pictures, her profile, her recent activity - which comes to an abrupt halt after Wednesday - are still there - in stark juxtaposition to the "R.I.P" messages on her Wall. There is no softening of the edges of loss, no pushing this to the back of my mind and continuing with my day. Each time I look at my laptop, there is another message, another confrontation with her now-permanent absence.
She is gone, but her profile is still there. And her profile reminds me that she is gone.
Facebook has enabled the news to spread quickly, allowed us to publicly declare our loss and grief; provided us with instant access to memories as we examine tagged photos of our departed friend or re-read the comments she has made and the conversations we have had. Facebook will no doubt make the funeral arrangements easier to communicate and perhaps eventually will host a memorial profile page. And that page will remain, perhaps forever.
The notion of the memorial page in perpetuity disturbs me - for surely the healthy process for acceptance of loss and diminishing of grief requires gradual disengagement from the emotional investiture in the deceased? Does having the memorial page on a "Friends" list therefore result in an obligation to look at it regularly? How regularly? Would the removal of the deceased from your "Friends" list constitute a betrayal, a public rejection of your association now that the other party is gone? Might others view this as insensitive?
And yet....at the moment I am clinging to all the scraps and remnants of my friend's existence that I can find. If the profile page is memorialised, I will keep it in my Friends list....at least for a while. Who knows how I will feel in three years time?
Our rituals of grief have developed over centuries - social networking has been an invention of the past few years. How do we reconcile our ancient traditions with the brash technology of today?