“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

February 2, 2011

Letting go of someone I never knew

I had an oddly poignant experience on Twitter yesterday — I know, the last place you’d ever expect to encounter something poignant.

I was going through the list of people I follow and was removing those who are just trying to sell something, as well as  all the self-proclaimed “marketing gurus,” “life coaches,” and political pundits. Just part of the necessary pruning and cleaning one occasionally must do in the world of social media platforms. Nothing new there.

But in the midst of this utterly banal chore, I came to the Twitter profile of Ginger, a Catholic woman whose profile picture I only vaguely remembered seeing before and whose posts I hadn't seen in quite awhile. Opening her profile, I saw that her last several posts were from mid 2009 and were about her rapid decline from lung cancer. In one, she expressed how hard it was for her to deal with the shock of having just been diagnosed by her physician as “terminal.” A few posts later, her comment stream just . . . ended.

Nothing more. 

I Googled her name and saw that she died that summer, not long after her last post, mourned, no doubt, by many grief-stricken family and friends. She was only 41.

This brought back the sad memory of another Catholic woman I knew quite well and very much admired — a vibrant and vital young wife and mother of just 44 — who also died of lung cancer in September of that same year. A pang of melancholy rose up in me at that still-painful remembrance.

Gazing at Ginger’s picture, the mouse cursor poised over the “unfollow” button in her profile, I was moved by the realization that, even though she had died some time ago and I would therefore never see any further posts from her, still . . . by pressing “unfollow,” I would be, in a certain sense, letting go of her. It seemed strange that it should occur to me that way — after all, I never knew her personally. I was only aware of her existence through Twitter — a dim and superficial awareness of someone, to be sure. But still, there had been the slightest of connections there, albeit nothing more than pixels on a screen.

In that moment, an image from the movie Titanic arose in my mind; the one in which Rose is lying on a piece of floating debris holding on with one hand to the now dead Jack, almost entirely submerged in the frigid water. As she lets go of his hand, he sinks slowly into oblivion. True, those two were illicit lovers. In Ginger's case, well, she was someone I had ever even met or spoken to before, much less known personally. 

And yet, for a few brief, uncanny moments, my mind was pervaded by that poignant image of Rose letting go of Jack’s hand. 

I pressed “unfollow,” and in so doing said a kind of electronic “goodbye” to a sister in Christ I never knew, except through the medium of an ephemeral, tenuous, and  insignificant collection of pixels on my computer screen. And then, I said a prayer for the repose of her soul.

How strange, it seems to me, and how perfectly fitting at the same time, that the Lord makes use of even something as casual and (seemingly) inconsequential as Twitter to remind the members of His Body of their connection to each other.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen. 


  1. Patrick, Thank you for sharing this! Very touching and I will join you in praying for her soul! Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen

  2. Yes, thank you very much for a beautiful post. It's a good reminder that there are real people on the other end of the keyboards. And I too join you in praying for her. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen

  3. The Communion of Saints. This is one reason I am so glad to be Catholic.

  4. (I have tears in my eyes, Patrick.) Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen

  5. Very moving. I lost someone I know and still have not unfollowed her on Twitter. Thanks for this.

  6. Patrick:

    I read this post after receiving the shocking news that someone who once sought my counsel in her struggle with alcoholism was brutually murdered just before Christmas. I have no doubt that I was led to your post.

    Dcn Scott

  7. Extremely moving. Thank you very much for sharing. Sort of like when the last shovel of dirt is put on the grave!

  8. Beautiful. I have a deceased friend who I knew mainly through online means. She's still a Facebook friend and I pray for her soul and her family every time she pops up in my "friends" box. I know how real these things can be. You're right - God uses all sorts of means to reach us.

  9. Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age by Pope Benedict XVI, is a much needed statement on our digital connectedness. Your post today illustrates the desired authenticity of the online Christian. To you, the person on Twitter was indeed a person and not merely a network connection. Too often these days we use technology to distance ourselves from real-live breathing and feeling human beings. Your story demonstrates the possibility of life online enhancing our lives in the real world through connecting us with others we would not otherwise know. Obviously Patrick, in some way you touched Ginger's life. She likely appreciated your message of hope and as a result was connected to you through Twitter. And now she has many praying for her, all because of a "silly" social network.

  10. Lovely hope-filled post Patrick! I hope too that if I ever am at death's door you will say a prayer(or ten!) for me. Great thing about the world of technology. It struck me too as I am reading a little book called Send me your Guardian Angel about St Pio who called upon the angels all the time - how we can literally take a quick moment to ask our Guardian angel to help that person in their pain, loneliness and distress.
    God rest Ginger's soul, and may the angels have already escorted her into paradise.

  11. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.

    May we all remember that there is always a real person on the other side of our screen. Once upon a time, there were people whose only connection was through letters. Daily we might read books from people hundreds of years dead, and find connection. Our way is faster, but holds the same potential to unite us. To be moved to prayer means the union is real, however fleeting it might have been in chronological time. By the grace of God, she may well be praying for you now. Life is precious...and forever.

  12. If there's a page for the dearly departed on FB, be sure to add Ginger and the other woman to it, as well as - if you wish - my grandfather Dick.

  13. This Feb. 16th is the 2nd anniversary of my dad's death. I still have his cell phone number listed in my contacts on my cell phone. It says, "Dad". I don't want to delete it, and won't. It's just another small piece of my dad, however insignificant, that I hold on to and cherish.

  14. Lord,

    Eternal Rest grant unto Ginger, and may Perpetual Light shine upon her.

    Have mercy on her, and please bring comfort to her loved ones.

    Thank you for writing about her, Patrick---

  15. Thanks for the post Patrick. For all that is said about social media, this is an example where it made some connection for both parties. Now, her soul is remembered and prayed for, a spiritual work of mercy-a powerful act at that.
    I have had many friends and family that have passed. I started a list on my pc and update it every year around All Souls Day. I print it out and include it in my All Souls Day novena envelope. I hope when the time comes for me, someone might consider doing the same for me.
    Reading that list always brings back good memories for me and lets me dwell on the good they brought my life.

  16. You may have let her go electronically, and perhaps physically, but rest assured (pun intended), she has not let go of you spiritually. This blog entry is a testament to that.

  17. I've had a similar experience at work. A wonderful Catholic man who was very popular at work because of his warmth and joy passed away after a battle with limphoma. He thought he had won the battle and returned to work only to have it over take him two days later. I keep the map of the floor and inventory of all the equipment. I keep meaning to takez his name of the inventory, but I just can't quite do it. Mike Castagna, rest in peace brother.