I have had a hard time making peace with the social web. Don’t all those virtual conversations take time away from real-time, face-to-face conversations? (My actual experience - No, they take time away from sleep!) Can we ever really make meaningful connections online? (One of the most authentically lovely weddings I’ve been to in recent years, was of friends who met through EHarmony). And who cares about all those people tapping out blogs into cyberspace anyway?
Three years ago, my husband’s brother-in-law, Alex – you might call him the spiritual heart of our family, was diagnosed with gastric cancer. His sister-in-law’s mother-in-law (marry one, you marry ‘em all in this family), suggested he use CarePages to keep everyone updated on what was happening. As a hospice volunteer, Diane knew of the on-line service which provides those dealing with illness, a private forum for communication. With friends and family all over the States and in Europe too, this seemed an easy way for Alex to keep us all informed about the tests and treatments he would be having. Thirty years earlier, at age 17, he had a year of chemo and radiation for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma so he knew the path ahead would be long and convoluted.
Alex was always a natural communicator; warm, funny and honest. He set up his web log and was soon as butter to freshly popped corn. His posts rapidly evolved from a diary of hospital visits to being a window on all the joys of his life; food, travel, and Cheri, his “Main Squeeze”. He regarded the cancer in his posts as the doctors investigated it in his body, seriously and thoroughly, but always with his focus on living. The number of visitors to his page began to grow; co-workers, friends and family. Each new post was met with a long list of replies; hopeful, thoughtful, mirthful.
Treatment began and with it the dreadful side effects. As the chemo pumped into him, Alex shared his thoughts on the role of challenge in the human realm of a spiritual life. Surgery to remove the tumor was scheduled for the summer and by then, the Tyree LoveLine had more than 500 subscribers. Alex and Cheri headed up to Sloan Kettering hospital in New York and we sent our love and prayers along with them. The post-op news came by blog, and it was heart breaking. The cancer had proved even more aggressive than expected and had spread beyond his stomach, Alex was in stage four.
In the months that followed, we gathered close as he shared his final journey with us. He wrote us from Brazil, Tuscany and Cape Cod, about his life and his faith. He shared meals he could not finish, and the beautiful, hard crystals of truth he mined from the seam of dying. We also had these conversations when we visited each other but the intimacy of these heartfelt exchanges traveled most often, over the distances of hours and miles, via the LoveLine. Alex took us to his favorite coffeehouse and introduced us to his friends, to each other. We became a community, connected by the replies we posted, responding to each other as well as to Alex, with stories and support. In his 18 year career working in hospice, Alex had been active in end of life issues. His blog gave him a place to work through his own experiences, to find his way to what he called true healing. I have similarly found that writing helps me to find the truths I need.
When Alex transitioned to the Big Love in February of 2010, we came together to remember him at his church in Delaware. Many of his online family met each other for the first time, but we were already connected on a deeper level than would have been possible by any other medium. It is possible to communicate our authentic selves by synthetic means; be it by letter, telephone or a computer. Love, hope and grief expressed online to another human being still connect us to the Big Love. I can make peace with that.