Social Media, Milkshakes, and Life After Death

Once in a while, less often now than before, someone asks about my dad, and I tell them I never knew my father. He died when when I very young, I say, and therefore I never knew him other than in faded pictures and fractured stories.

I’ve said this so many times for so many years that I believed it to be true. But it’s not. It’s not a lie, but it’s not true, either.

I knew my father. I was 8-years-old when he died, so of course I knew him. I just don’t remember him. In fact I don’t remember anything about my life prior to the morning when I heard he died.

My memory up to that point was erased. I knew my family members and where I lived, but my experiences were gone — including any experiences I had with my father.

As bad as it sounds, it really wasn’t a problem for me. I wasn’t sad about having lost my dad because, in my mind, I never had one. And you can’t mourn for something you never had. My mind created the ultimate defense against loss: The inability to recall ever having lost in the first place.

Then a few weeks ago something happened. Something scary. Something wonderful.

I was in the car with my 12-year-old daughter. She was drinking a milkshake and had put it in the cup holder when, suddenly, I had this urge to tell her to hold the cup and be careful not to spill it. And just as suddenly I saw my dad, in my head, yelling at me for spilling a milkshake in his car, a brand new Cadillac.

A memory. A real memory, bursting through my synapses with the force of 36 years, propelled by the power of milk and ice cream.

I don’t know why — whether it was the milkshake that shook the memory from its moorings, or whether it was because I was driving my new car, which made me remember my dad’s new car and the apparent anxiety we both shared about people spilling things.

I don’t know why, all I know is it was real.

So what does any of this have to do with social media? Just this: If I die tomorrow, my daughter may not remember me, but she will know me.

Social media and search have put my entire life online. She will see me, read about me, probably learn more about me than she cared to know even if I were still alive.

Many people still see social media as the Realm of the Narcissist, a place for ego and adoration filled with banal Facebook updates and pointless Tweets. Some of that is true, although there is far more good than bad; far more about social media that moves us forward than turns us away.

I think about what it would have been like — what I would have been like — if social media was around when my dad died. Those banal Facebook posts would be priceless to me, those pointless tweets like sparks of light.

I still may not have remembered, but I would have known. And that, I believe, would have made all the difference.

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