My cousin Brian McGuire passed away last night, after he and his fiancee were struck by a car (article).
My father has 12 brothers and sisters, and as we lived far from most of them growing up, I didn’t get to know all of my cousins that well – there are a lot of them. I saw Brian only a handful of times in my life, and growing up I didn’t know him well, despite our only being a year apart.
But across the last year, I was lucky to reconnect with him…on Facebook, as one does now. He was smart, funny and a kind, kind person. And I looked forward to his daily presence on Facebook because he was always smiling.
We take these relationships for granted, but the knowledge and insight we have about so many people from all parts and times of our life is a new phenomenon. We didn’t have this insight even 2o years ago. In that world, I wouldn’t have gotten to know Brian as he found happiness with his fiancee. I wouldn’t have gotten to know his sense of humor and to look forward to the wry posts he made on a daily basis, and the glee with which he posted funny photos and memes. I wouldn’t have seen his clear and strong stands on social issues he believed so much in. I would have missed out watching a member of my family grow into the incredible person he was.
While these online interactions will never replace the true joy of knowing and seeing someone in person, our social relationships fulfill an important role as average human mobility continues to evolve. We go away to school, maybe grad school, then somewhere for a few years for a job, then move on. After kids go to college, you retire somewhere else. We don’t stay within 100 miles of home anymore, and staying in-person in-touch is no longer an option.
Social interactions provide us at least some small way of staying connected with those we love, respect and learn from.
My sorrow can in no way approach the enormous grief that Brian’s family feels tonight. But I can mourn losing a new friend and a cousin – I can mourn him because I was lucky enough to get to know him this past year. It may be a small remembrance, but I will miss him every time I open my News Feed and expect to see him there. In even the small glimpses that a social network provides, Brian shone brightly. I can only imagine the joy of having been part of his daily life in-person.