I noticed some time ago that Facebook had added a cute emoji: whenever a friend had a birthday, their name would appear with a little birthday cake next to it. For those times when I forgot a birthday, it seemed like a sweet, non-judgmental reminder (unlike those “Shelly has a birthday today” notifications).
I was making use of that birthday cake reminder to write on someone’s page when I noticed the “upcoming birthdays” suggestion. I have a lot of friends with birthdays in October, so it seemed like a good idea to make sure I didn’t forget anyone. And that’s when I saw it: Dan’s birthday is Thursday.
Dan was a guy I dated in high school, one of the sweetest guys I’ll ever know. I wrote about him here when he died suddenly almost a year ago.
This was not the first time I’d gotten a birthday reminder for someone who had died. After all, if their Facebook page is still live, this will continue to happen. I scrolled down to see that my friend Mary Ellen, who’s been dead for several years, still has a birthday coming up on Christmas Eve.
Sometimes we remember famous people on their birthdays (Martin Luther King) and others on the day they died (John F. Kennedy). It’s like that with people who aren’t famous, too. Although my classmate Carol’s birthday is also in October, I’m much more likely to remember the day she died: Sept. 11, 2001.
Dan’s death hit me hard, though we had only seen each other once since college. That one time happened to be a few weeks before he died. The renewal of our friendship on Facebook a couple of years earlier hadn’t hastened a face-to-face reunion. But once I decided to stop by his workplace on a visit home, I wondered what had taken so long. Our plans to get together before Christmas never happened.
His unexpected death still makes me sad and a little angry with myself for not re-establishing that contact sooner. When I saw that birthday reminder, the emotions flooded back: the familiar comfort we both seemed to feel that day in his store, my refusal to believe the news – again, on Facebook – of his death, the guilt from waiting too damn long to see him again.
I suspect you, too, have seen those Facebook birthday reminders and rushed to write on someone’s wall. But what if they’re dead? His page, after all, was where I found out about his death. I wrote on it and read other posts from shocked friends, but only one person has written on it since December.
Thursday I’ll be out of town, appearing at the “A Library State of Mind” combined Illinois libraries conference in Peoria. I might write on Dan’s page, I might not. But I know he’ll be on my mind. And at some point, probably in the evening as the day winds down, I’ll think about the fun we had in high school. I’ll regret again not inviting him to my senior prom.
And wish him a happy birthday.
Completely unrelated: if you haven’t seen the notice elsewhere, here is my essay, “Long Term Survivor”, winner of the 2015 Christopher Hewitt Award for Creative Nonfiction from A&U Magazine.