Facebook. It is the social media website that has connected people from all over the world. We use it to get in touch with friends we haven’t seen since grade school, or high school, or college. We use it as an extra way to stay in touch with the people we are already close to, such as neighbors, siblings, and friends who live near and far. Parents use it stay in touch with their children, whether those children still live at home, are off at college, or are grown and living on their own. Many people use it to check up on ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. It has become a part of everyday conversations, a topic of discussion around the water coolers throughout the world.
Since its inception, Facebook has undergone a number of changes and facelifts. Some of the changes were subtle, others not so subtle. Many users comment on the changes just as much as they comment on their friend’s posts. They complain about the myriad of changes that have occurred, such as the News Feed or the Timelines. And yet, they still log on every day, sometimes multiple times a day, just to see what’s going on. People love it, yet at the same time they seem to hate it.
I admit it - I love it.
Geographically, my extended family is scattered all over the place. I’ve lived in Ohio all of my life, but I have family who live in Alaska, Florida and Cozumel, Mexico – among other places. To be honest, I haven’t seen most of my cousins since I was a toddler and some of them I’ve never met at all. But I’m curious about them. I want to know what they’re up to. Shortly before going on vacation last summer I decided to email my aunt, who lives in Florida with my 90-year-old grandfather. I wanted to know how she was, how my grandpa was doing and what was going on with my cousins. Following that email, my aunt and I connected on Facebook. Through that connection, I found my cousin Opal. She and I emailed each other and also corresponded on Facebook. I found out that she owned a dive shop in Cozumel and she told me to check out her website. I marveled at the beautiful pictures, many of them underwater shots that showed her on various dives with customers and friends.
A few weeks after reconnecting, the girls and I left to make the trek to an army base in South Carolina. We were headed to see John before he embarked on the next stage of his military training. I remember sitting outside a little restaurant in the hills of West Virginia, halfway through the long drive. I posted our plans on Facebook as we were sitting underneath an umbrella, enjoying dinner before heading to the hotel for the night. A few minutes later, my phone beeped. I was getting notifications about a comment on my Facebook post. It was Opal, and she was curious about our journey. We commented back and forth for a while. The girls asked me why I was smiling at my phone. I told them I was on Facebook with my cousin who lives in Mexico. They thought that was pretty cool. So did I.
This connection meant even more to me when tragedy struck a few months later. It was Labor Day weekend. Opal was in a scuba accident. She was treated at a hospital in Mexico but needed more specialized trauma care that could only be provided in the U.S. She was flown to a Florida hospital. Family and friends rallied around her and provided support in different ways. My aunt, who was by her side day and night at the hospital, relayed information as much as she could. A close friend of Opal’s created a Facebook page for her and the people who were in the accident with her. Updates on their conditions were posted along with pleas for help in the form of money and prayers. People from all over the world, myself included, waited for word. We cheered when it seemed Opal was making progress. We cried when there were setbacks. Unfortunately, the injuries she sustained were too much for her to overcome and her body gave out. My cousin died a few weeks after the accident. Again, I cried. I was just starting to get to know her as an adult and a friend, and now I wasn’t going to get that chance after all.
I am so glad that I connected with my cousin when I did. I only wish I would have done it sooner. This tragedy is yet another reminder that tomorrow might not come for some people. And while it has been a devastating blow to all who knew her, it has also been a time for connecting. I am now in touch with a few more of my cousins and other people who were close to Opal. Through the pictures they post on Facebook, I see her beautiful smile and her vivacious personality. I’ve learned about the group of friends she surrounded herself with in Cozumel and how they evolved into a family even though they weren’t related. I’ve learned she and I had more in common than we ever knew. I have some pictures of my own of her, from when we were much younger. I haven’t posted them on Facebook yet, but I will soon. I looked at them the other day, smiling but with tears in my eyes, wishing I had more pictures of her. Wishing she had more time with friends and family.
So say what you want about Facebook. Complain about the never-ending changes, complain about the lack of privacy, complain about the amount of time you spend on there. But I won’t be complaining. Instead, I’m grateful. It has allowed me to connect with friends and family, it has allowed me to get to know people who live far outside the realm of my tiny Ohio town. It has allowed a family, a family who is far-flung across the globe, a family who has been touched by tragedy, to connect, to grieve and to laugh. And for that, I am thankful for Facebook, changes and all. After all, change is simply part of life.