Thursday, September 9, 2010

My last will and testament

Over the last few weeks I have been in two situations that potentially could have been fatal. My whole trip to Pakistan was potentially lethal. And, I was caught in the middle of the Christchurch earthquake last weekend. But a colleague has laughed at how I have documented everything on Facebook saying "so funny - reaching for facebook straight after an earthquake....". So this has got me thinking about why I have documented so much about my life on the Internet in the last few weeks.

Keeping people informed
One of the main reasons for documenting what has been happening to me has been to keep my family and friends informed of what I am up to. But it is more than that...it has been about contributing to the body of knowledge about events...adding my very small perspective to the greater picture. Maybe in a hundred years a PhD student will take a look at these events to build a picture of what happened and piece together all the Facebook posts to get a glimpse into this moment of our history. And I like to think I have contributed in a very small way to this picture.

Connecting with people
The second reason for using Facebook to tell people what is happening to me is it gives me a chance to find out what is going on...and feel connected to others who are going through the same thing. When we were stuck in Christchurch airport last weekend, for a few hours we had no idea what was going on outside. So it was very reassuring to hear from people...and to know they were OK...and to have their reassurance being sent back to us. It helped me feel that we were not alone.

Documenting my life for my family
My last reason is a tad morbid. In a way I see my Facebook posts...Twitter tweets...blog posts as my living will...my last testament. I leave my family memories...thoughts...insights that they may otherwise not have. In a way, it is me saying "goodbye".

What do you think of what I have said here? Am I being too morbid? Is it too upsetting for the family to see your latest words on Facebook before you die?

13 comments:

Laureen said...

I can only hope that our electronic legacy continues on the way that the written legacy of the past does.

I don't think it's creepy. I think it's connected.

Claire Thompson said...

It is interesting to think that potentially 10, 20, 30 years down the road our families can look at what we wrote and posted to remember us (if we've died) or to understand us at that moment in time. My kids are little right now, but I can see that once they are adults it could be quite interesting to see what I wrote and thought was important when I was their age.

What I haven't given a lot of thought about is what will happen to all of my many many accounts. An online acquaintance of mine died a year ago, but I think her Twitter profile is still up. There is no way of knowing that she is gone from looking at her profile. How do we deal with that?

Pam said...

I too like to keep updates going for family, friends and making a contribution to the newsworthiness of what is going on.
I would love to know if future generations will be able to build a picture of what our life was like, much like we have done with ancient drawing left on walls.

James Hacon said...

I was actually thinking the same thing the other day. A couple of people I know have passed away and both have Facebook Pages remaining, I was wondering firstly whether someone should put a comment on these pages.

I know that if anything was to ever happen to me this could potentially be the only way that many of my friends, from the far flung corners of the world would, know what has happened.

Then I also got thinking about whether it is a good opportunity for people to look back on someone's life. I would say that very few of us actually keep hand written journal's anymore, I kind of see Facebook as my diary and do like to look back over things sometimes.

WiseWoman said...

Oh dear, I read this hoping you were going to leave me your collection of midwifery texts :)

(of course, I'd rather have you as a real live teacher than any out of date texts that would cost a fortune to ship to Canada!) Gloria

Sarah Stewart said...

@wisewoman Have very few textbooks these days - all my resources are online :)

@Laureen I guess Facebook is the modern equivalent of cave drawings.

@Claire Interesting question. I think it is a bit wierd seeing pages that belong to people who are dead. But is it any different from reading an autobiography?

@Pam and @James We're all Poms living in other countries so I wonder if we see FB through different eyes...because we have different issues about connecting with families? But I have no way of knowing how I'd feel about reading my sister's page if she suddenly died (she lives in UK)...would it upset me, or would I feel closer to her...I just don't know.

Sarah Stewart said...

Beverley Walker wrote:
I enjoy everything you write
* I have noted through the experience of rearing two younger sisters and 4 children that although they take a passing interest they are not curious. I noted with all of my 7 grandchildren that they are vitally keen to be "with you" in more ways than one. I have been able to receive some beautiful little hand written letters in the mail due to distance and my habit of still sending ordinary mail.
* Facebook is not ready for them yet (protection wise) but this has been a new way to keep up to date with two children new dogs, new friends, holidays. One son when going overseas attaches a map of the country with arrows dates and destinations including contact names and numbers. I now do not fret nearly as much.
* Apart from that the book I am about to write, which is long overdue, will be a gift to my grandchildren. I wished my mother had written more and I had listened more to both my parents. Although like most family lore it was repeated often enough to be learned. Most has turned out to be fact.
* Facebook kept us abreast of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott's criss cross moves both scampering in panic mode across Australia in the election comedy show.Facebook was faster than email.
* SMS was our tree for getting to our mates across Australia to alert them as to where to pin them down with banners about our legislation trauma - the "tool of torture" that was furtively passed on election eve which has tied us up hands and feet, but not soul to the obstetric witch hunters.
* I say roll on technology the woman's best friend. Humans are the only species to retain grandparents in order to pass on the how to live and the oral history. Apart from elephants and the ape families( and probably others which I will be told about by somebody) which stay around to teach grandchildren how to live. I say long live grand parents. Most cultures respect their elders observe the way our first nations behave towards each other.
* Keep it up Sarah - the nay sayers have a cup half full. Drink up from the cup of life and keep us tuned in to your musings.

willie campbell said...

oh last will an testament.
I'm mourning the absence of a son who would normally be here this weekend running a full M<arathon, but who feels drawn to be in Christchurch to somehow be aprt of the community of grief.
A very interesting phenomenon for him and a remionder of such things as archives for us.
Willie

InfoMidwife said...

Interesting blog Sarah, I think it is the reality of life...mobile communication...9/11 people used mobile phones to say goodbye...Facebook is a medium of communication...twitter instant information.... these can both be good and bad.... but they are here to stay...I often talk about making Advanced Directive's, living wills etc... we need to talk about these issues more...i often think that bloging is a living memory of the times we live in...you never know in ten yrs time we might be laughing at what we have written....techno world is here to stay we might as well be part of it..... keep up the good work....lol

Sun äitis said...

I have been away for a while, so this comes kind of late.

For the first: great that you survived all the obstacles!

For the second: I can relate to you so well! When I heard of my cancer, I immediately started recording my thoughts at Audioboo. Hearing a voice from behind the grave could be potentially even more morbid than seeing a FB update. (luckily also my story had good ending for the time being: my surgery went well, the tumor was small and its histology "lame", so the prognoses is good)

-Irmeli-

Sarah Stewart said...

Great to hear you are well now, Irmeli. As a matter of interest, have your family heard your recordings - what do they think of them?

Sarah Stewart said...

@Wilie Recently a colleague of mine died. I left comments about her on her Facebook page, knowing her family would read it...I think it turned into a wonderful page of remembrance.

@infomidwife I wonder what we'll think about this discussion in 10 years time...what will have taken the place of FB and blogs...and how we use them?

Sun äitis said...

Sarah,
yes they have, and my colleagues and everybody else who wants to listen to them. I uploaded them to audioboo and inserted a link to my blog.

A colleague wrote a mail to me and said that "sounds kind of corny, but I enjoyed listening to the boos". My children said nothing. My husband thought it was a good idea.

The easy part here is that I'm not dead yet, and if my doctor is right breast cancer probably isn't what beats me eventually. So, although anxiety can be heard in my voice in some of the boos, listeners are kind of safe when they listen to them now, knowing that all that really happened after all was that I lost one breast.

Hearing a loved one's voice after his/her death can be a powerful experience, though. A couple of years ago I found a tape where my mom (died 1982) was reciting some poems. I also have a tape where my grandmother recites poetry. I have spent very emotional moments with those tapes!

But to go back to your original post: I also believe that all the documents, be it 140 character tweets, FB status lines, slideshare presentations, blog entries, comments in other peoples blogs, podcasts, youtubevideos... are mementos for our children and grandchildren some day.

My son once wrote in a meme "the person I wish I could meet is my grandmother, she sounds like an interesting person, but she died before I was born". Just think how well our grandchildren could learn to know us, even if they were born after our death! (if the accounts were still there, or the backups could still be opened!)

-Irmeli