A few weeks ago, a student at the college where I work died. She was the victim of an accident and had been in a coma for a while. It was—is—very sad.
Last week, someone pointed out to us that the student's image appeared in a prominently-placed photo on a not-very-prominent page within our website. It's a closeup of her writing on a chalkboard, a lovely, academic image on a page explaining the goals of our current fundraising campaign.
The individual who let us know about this photo did so with the suggestion that we take it down. He thought that stumbling upon the photo could be upsetting to friends and family of the deceased. The suggestion was forwarded to the staff in my office from a VP, who requested that we take care of the situation now. So we did. We found an equally lovely, academic photo of a student reading a book. And just like that, with a few clicks of a mouse and a few lines of code, that dead student, that vibrant girl, that young scholar was gone from our site.
I don't know if, in fact, a family member or friend had expressed concern at seeing the photo or if the person who let us know about it made an assumption about how people would react, likely based on his own reaction. All I know is that while grief may have some predictable patterns and trends, some infamous stages, the way feelings come out in those who are suffering is individual and volatile.
All I can do is think about how I would feel if that had been an image of John. I would have been angry if that photo had been taken down. It would have felt like slap in the face, an attempt to erase him from the world and move on, as though in death, he were no longer good enough for the institution. I liken it to people who hesitate to talk about John for fear of upsetting me. Well, guess what: I'm thinking about him all the time. Bringing up his name is not upsetting, it's just an articulation of what my brain spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about anyway.
Talk about him. Show me pictures. Keep him alive. Hearing about him and seeing him is not a source of pain. In fact, it's pain's antidote.