You may need to bear with me, you see I’m grieving; a state that has rendered me prone to pacing the floor uselessly, forgetting words I use often, losing my place in conversations, indecision, finding myself staring into space, bouts of tears and a rage that’s triggered by even the kindest of intentions.
I’m not new to this. I’ve suffered loss before, as I’m guessing you have too. Though I’m not suggesting its repetition inoculates against the pain only that this time the circumstances have changed.
I am new to grieving – and by this I mean active, raw, only just bereaved sorrow – in the digital age. When my dad died 17 years ago, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram; the Internet was still new and rosy-pink and full of innocent potential. He was gone, all we had left were photos and letters and cards and our fallible, grainy embodied memories that, like the few home videos we had, were liable to change with each replay. The potential triggers for fresh grief were less/fewer (bear with me, I’m trying but..) and so more manageable, but he was gone and remembrance a conscious act.
My best and dearest friend recently died, and I am haunted by her data-ghost, the virtual self she/we built/build in our digital world. She follows me as go about my data-business, she lingers in text messages and diary reminders that pop up on my screen mid-meeting. She comforts from old comments on Instagram posts and her face reappears on my timeline as new poems and photos and messages are shared by others trying to come to terms with her loss.
Is this our secular afterlife? Our virtual Heaven where our loved ones drift, encoded, memorialised, pixelated? Morphing, almost imperceptibly, with each new post, the mourners remaking the virtual image to suit them?
I am raw from little sleep and the need to fulfill promises made and though I know I should switch off the phone, iPad, the computer, I should unplug, perform an exorcism to protect myself -I can’t. I can’t bear the ‘real’ world where she is more absent. Where she only rests in my fallible, grainy memory. I am trailing her further into the coded territory of the new Underworld. We are both data-ghosts, coded trails in the cloud, simulacra protected from loss.