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 on EHarmony.com). 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 online 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 soon became 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 via the wire. 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 IV.
In the months that followed we gathered close as he shared his final journey with us. He wrote to us from Brazil, Tuscany and Cape Cod about his life and his faith. In his correspondence he shared meals he could not finish alongside beautiful, hard crystals of truth he mined at the seam of dying. We also had these conversations during face to face visits but these intimate, heartfelt exchanges traveled most often over the distances of hours and miles via the LoveLine. Alex took us to his favorite coffeehouse, The Bruhaha, to introduce 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 as a bereavement counselor in hospice Alex had been passionate about 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 2010, we all 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 seems it is possible to communicate our authentic selves by synthetic means, be it by letter, telephone or computer. Love, hope and grief expressed online to another human being still connects us to each other, to the Big Love. I am at peace with that.