Often I’d walk over to my childhood friend’s large sprawling house at the edge of an American cul-de-sac on Long Island, and knock on the big, old door, getting an answer from my childhood friend’s grandmother.
Kim Sheridan-Dugmore’s grandmother, Muriel “Mom” Patricia (Sanchez) Ziegler was the matriarch of the place, a home for several generations. It was a home of fun, creativity and laughter, all fuel for Kim’s grandmother, who I remember never, ever, lost her patience, shouted, or made her extended family and guests feel uncomfortable. When I first met Mom in the 1970s I remember her smile and her beautiful big blue eyes, so when those same sparkling eyes appeared at me again, at age 98, from Kim’s status updates on Facebook, I took notice immediately.
It was Mom’s end days, and Kim decided to document and share these intimate moments on Facebook, and with a blog (ninety eight and three) and photos. Kim was caring for her grandmother, and her young son Jonah, while running her home-based handmade jewellery business, The Quiet Woods.
When these updates arrived, I cried. I cried because of the beauty of the photos and poetic updates, and partly because it would bring a flood of memories for me of my 1970s childhood on Long Island, and I cried because I knew and loved Kim’s grandmother. And so I watched the final moments unfold, petal after petal of precious, very personal moments being shared on Facebook. I “liked” the updates, I commented, sometimes I shared her posts to all of my Facebook friends. I’d get updates like this:
Mom’s not been feeling herself these past few days.
She’s not been wanting to be out of bed and she’s not
eating well: however, Jonah continues to put a big smile
on her face. I show her what necklace I’m making and she
lights up and wants to buy one for herself. “How much
is this one”, she asks. I tell her that it’s $60 wholesale to
which she says “That’s not enough!”
I know we have enriched her life a lot. We’d like to keep
going a while.
I can’t help but feel worried right now…”
I was 3,000 miles away, and could not go for a visit to say goodbye, but with Facebook, I felt like I had some way of showing that I cared, that I was thinking about Mom, and all the times I got to spend with her.
There was that time when Kim showed me the drawing wall in her house. Mom was standing nearby and offered me a marker, and I had the decadent experience of being allowed to scrawl anything I wanted on a kitchen wall. It was covered in pictures and to do lists. What creative freedom it was to draw on a wall, in your own home, and I think it was Mom who encouraged it, as she let the artistic and creative spirits of her family and their friends flourish, without any inhibition.
The environment Mom created proved the best guidance for Kim, who pursued her artistic tendencies, and is now selling her jewellery successfully online in places like Etsy. Following my experience with the drawing wall, I went home and immediately started my own drawing wall in a hallway of my home.
So when the photos and updates started appearing in my Facebook feed, I thought of the drawing wall, and got to watch from afar as Mom faded away.
I’ve seen many examples of RIP tributes, where the person who has passed away lives on in people’s minds, with Facebook. Such as this recent article in The Atlantic. I still leave messages on Facebook for my friend Gary Brand, who passed away suddenly from a brain aneurism at just 40. But, watching Mom dying on Facebook was a first time experience for me. Those who were watching got to be with Kim and her family, online, at every heartfelt moment.
Kim tells me that sharing her grandmother’s end days on Facebook got her a great deal of support and feedback from friends around the world, like me. She recommends others to do the same, and use Facebook to pay tribute to a family or friend’s life.
“My grandmother had always been there for me since I was a little girl living with her. She recently helped my Mom and I launch our jewelry business and then it was my turn to be there for her. I filled her days with love, warmth, understanding and the occasional dirty joke. She got my best because she deserved it! Love you, Mom,” Kim said.
RIP Mom (1915-2014)