by Alice Harry
R.I.P. > F.AF.K.

In an era in which our digital lives have arguably become as relevant and present as our lives lived AFK, (Away From Keyboard), how do we process grief? What happens when the traces of a person are left to float in the ether? Or vice versa: what happens when these traces are removed and can no longer be accessed? After a year of shared, collective mourning in which funerals have taken place via Zoom, we must find ways to conceive that our bonds with loved ones are not limited to the somatic. Instead, we must begin to understand that these connections may transcend boundaries, they may continue to live behind, within and through our screens. 

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The material object feels ever more material when you lose someone. A leaf is so clearly a leaf. Defined by its green-ness, its scent, its rough exterior that becomes a slushy, sticky green stain when rubbed between the fingertips. Yet, everything you’ve known, rationally, emotionally, erotically, all of that seems fuzzy, undefined, and out of grasp. In grief we live in a space between the incredibly clear shape of things and the blurred memory of feelings. It is a moment that feels unequivocally motionless and stuck, whilst also feeling like this thing, this disaster, may cause you to move and grow like you have never done before. 

Thickly spread butter on top of Soreen bread and thinly sliced pears on a small plate. Always served with a tiny fork and eaten sitting on the squishy pink leather couch. These are the textures I think of when I recall my first encounter with loss. My grandmother’s soft, wrinkled skin, speckled with strawberry shaped dots that travelled across the bridge of her gently crooked nose. Her kindness is in those dots. Her love is in her left hand, resting in the little groove of a missing knuckle, just under her ring finger. 

My Grandmother passed 4 years ago and I have stored my memories of her in all kinds of places. Ripe cooking apples in Autumn; tiny tins of violet and rose creams; a small music box that plays ‘my huckleberry friend.’ My more recent loss, that of a younger family member, feels more difficult to place. Somehow this grief is still looming, made perhaps more complicated by the addition of the traces that our generation now leaves online. With this loss there are no defining objects or tangible moments that I can pour my memories into, because for the last 10 years I have mostly connected with her online. She has lived in my thoughts, only expressed through the screen of my iPhone. Our interactions have been limited to WhatsApp messages, emoji laden comments and Instagram likes. For me, these are the digitised, palpable, corporeal shapes of her fading presence.

Though she is gone, I decide to have breakfast with her in the morning, something we’ve never done before. I have half drawn the pink velvet curtains in my bedroom, the glow of sunlight through their fabric feels like I imagine her skin did. We make a filter coffee in a Zabar’s mug, because something tells me she would have loved New York, and we take it back to bed. Nestled beneath my duvet, she’s there with me. Resting in the palm of my hand, 64GB, super retina HD display, rose gold colour. As the coffee cools, she tells stories about her favourite female icons from the 60s, DMs me cute infographics and manages to make me cry in less than 280 characters. We listen to The Beach Boys, The Monkees and George Harrison’s, ‘I’ll see you in my dreams’ on repeat via YouTube links.

Two days later I wonder if she might like to sit with me on the couch while I watch Sex and the City and binge eat chocolate. I know horror films were more her thing, but maybe she’ll indulge me. So I call her up, type her name in the search bar, invite her over. But she’s not online. I try again, wondering if I misspelt her username. Nothing. More frantically now, my fingertips hitting the screen, grasping at every account. Scrolling up to refresh the page. Hoping there’s some kind of glitch. Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. But there is only a space left there, a hole has been pierced in the digital space in which she used to live. 

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Last seen 02/02/2021 at 07.48.  

Sometimes we are left with a physical place to visit, a place to lay flowers that will evolve and decay into the earth, giving birth to new life. Other times we are left with a social media account, a place where we can like photos and send messages from one world to another, hoping they make the distance, hoping our past shapes our future. Sometimes we may feel like we have neither, and in those moments we must take solace in the very in-between of grief. The slushy, sticky green stain the leaf leaves on the fingertips and everything its transient mark does to us.  

Rest in peace. R.I.P.
Forever away from keyboard. F.A.F.K.