15 February 2010

Doing the Right Thing

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.

34 comments:

Amber said...

Wow. So well said and powerful. The accident that killed those 2 students was really close to our house and I think about each of them often.

K said...

I think that only people who have experienced this type of loss, like you, are the only ones who can understand what her family is feeling. Maybe the office should have asked this person if they were acting on her parent's/family's wishes, or if they were just making a guess.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone thought to contact the parents and ask them which they would prefer? I often think involving people in decisons made for them is a good sign of respect, and it might help them to know the school mourns with them, and respects their wishes......

AM

Cheryl Lage said...

Thank you for this post, Snick. Our church lost an incredible young man, a high school student last Mother's Day.

We had a "year in review" slide show yesterday, and the young man was featured numerous times as he was a tremendous contributor to the year's events prior to his death.

His mom was not in attendance, but as you've so beautifully described, I know she'd have been pleased.

Peace to you, Snick and happy, happy remembrances of John.

jo(e) said...

You said this so beautifully.

If it were my daughter or sister or niece, I'd want the photo to stay up.

Snickollet said...

K and Anon:

It was suggested to the powers that be that the students' parents/family be contacted. I am at the end of the food chain, so I don't know what happened at the decision-making top. Hopefully the right thing.

-snick

Anonymous said...

I'm a lucky person. I have both my parents, one grand-parent, a grandmother in law who is just completely a gift. Despite some heavy stuff, I even have all my siblings (3!). I also have my hubby and my two kids. So, I don't speak from experience when I say this. I believe the people who loved her most would find comfort in a picture they had never seen and knowing that people who they never knew where missing her just a little and maybe a lot. And, I think you can be the authority that says the concerned caller was compassionate and simply wrong.

http://callapitter46.blogspot.com/

I've been reading her blog, and I worry for her. And, I wish I could help her in some way. And, her situation scares me so much I'm afraid to even say it.

Anyway, between you and her, I think I'm learning something about compassion that I simply didn't know before.

Amelie said...

I agree with you, Snick. If there were a photo of my mom somewhere, online or otherwise, I'd be happy to see it.

Sarah said...

Perhaps you could send a copy of the photo to her family? And, indeed, well said. We lost one of my graduate school colleagues a year ago, and I would be infuriated if they took her picture down. She was one of the best, and I want her as a representation of our school.

Anonymous said...

I am agreement with you 100%. I lost my daughter several years ago. Albeit, she was only three years old, but if her picture or something else was on public display, I would love to have it stay.

abbiejoy said...

This immediately brought to mind something that happened to me when I was in grad school. I was interviewing a professor for a project along with another classmate. I commented on a collage the professor had in his office--it was of his wife--his daughter made it after she died.

My classmate gave me hard time about it after we left. He felt it was awkward and uncomfortable that I said something. But I think the issue was that HE felt awkward. It made me so angry. The professor had a beautiful remembrance of his wife in his office, and my classmate made it seem like it was shameful to acknowledge that. People grieve in different ways, and should have the space to do so.

I was grieving for a close friend who died only a few weeks earlier, which definitely fueled my reaction.

Susan said...

Well said post Snick. I was like, take it down - why?? even before I read your post all the way through. I so agree with you. Keep the pictures up - keep talking about these incredible people no longer with us!!!

Sonya said...

Excellent post. I agree with you. Keeping the memory of a loved one alive is a great antidote for grief. Even the true God keeps his faithful alive in his memory until it's time to bring them back to life.

Krys72599 said...

People who haven't experienced a loss don't understand the utter devastation we feel. I LOVE hearing about my dad, talking about him, keeping him alive in a way. I think about him every day - he's been gone since 1987 - there's not a single day that goes by that I don't think of him!
Talking about him is comforting, not hurtful, as you know.
I think it's just hard for others who have never experienced a loss like us to understand that it hurts LESS to talk about your loved one, as painful as it might be, than to NOT talk about him, as if you could forget the pain...

Poppy said...

Wow...I totally understand what you mean about that feeling like a slap in the face.

Can you imagine what parents/friends who knew of that photo must feel or will feel when they go to the site in hopes of seeing her face and find she's been replaced? Ouch.

I guess it's a conundrum and hard to decide which way was/is best.

Such a sad, sad situation.

Sadia said...

How sad!

Soon, Then said...

Hi, Stacey. I can't find you on Facebook, but I did find you here! I had no idea your husband died. I'm so sorry. I admit I wondered what your story was, but it didn't feel right to ask. This strange internet-saturated world makes for interesting means for learning about the people in our lives. Please let me be a part of your community that you call on if you ever need a hand with the kids. We'd be happy to help!

I just wanted to say hello. You blog looks lovely. Feel free to hop on over to mine too.

amyinbc said...

I have to agree. Had it been one of my children, my hubby or anyone else close to me I would have been saddened to see the picture go down...

Too much of a reminder of how her/his life was over, but how could they so swiftly extinguish his memory?

No harm in remembering the student as being there and present.. at that time.

amyinbc said...

I must remember this when visiting with my parents.. a great lesson and I thank you.

20 years ago my parents lost their son to suicide. He would have been 40 this year. (How strange to think he has been dead as long as he was alive :((

My parents appreciate talking about him but as a sibling I worry about upsetting them.. But then I think of how I enjoy talking about my brother with those I love.. Rekindling memories and having others add to them.. Very rewarding..

Thanks for making me think about this one Snick..

Maggie said...

You're so right. Thanks for posting.

luvily said...

Always enjoy reading your blog - have been for awhile now.

I would have wanted the photo to stay up - just my thoughts

Yankee, Transferred said...

I do not know of which I speak, but I speak nonetheless. I feel sure I would want my daughter's picture to remain. A slap in the face, indeed.
And yes, I'm sure you are thinking about John all the time. It must be a relief to hear others speak of him, too. I'm so sorry, Snick-no less so now than when John died. I know it must just flat out suck.

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

Very sad, all around. People with the best intentions can also cause a lot of pain.

Gigi said...

When my sister died last July her boyfriend went and almost immediately took down her myspace page. My mom was fine with it, but I think if she would have taken a moment to think about it she may have thought differently about it. Personally, it bummed me out. I would have like to been able to visit it and read thoughts about her from her friends.
I am a Facebook user and since her death I have had 2 other friends that have died. They both had Facebook pages that were left up after they died and they have become sort of memorials and a place for friends and family to grieve and share. I wish my sister had that.
I always read, but this is my first comment.
Gigi

masteroftheuniverse said...

interesting you brought that up. I dated a girl for awhile(it ended badly) who wanted to know about Denise., I was never ashamed or upset about talking about her, and I answered her questions. Later after she broke it off, I found out it was because I talked about Denise and she thought it was creepy. I guess you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

masteroftheuniverse said...

interesting you brought that up. I dated a girl for awhile(it ended badly) who wanted to know about Denise., I was never ashamed or upset about talking about her, and I answered her questions. Later after she broke it off, I found out it was because I talked about Denise and she thought it was creepy. I guess you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Michèle Hastings said...

i know how i feel... i want john's pictures to remain everywhere...i am saddened that his website was taken down before i even had the opportunity to pay for his web hosting for another year (he was a ceramic artist) i still go back and look at his blog...i find comfort there. i can't speak for everyone but i think most people enjoy seeing the pictures of their loved ones full of life.

winecat said...

Awesome post. I would have been totally pissed if I was that young woman's parents. Removing her picture is akin to saying that she never existed.

And I also agree with you about people being afraid to bring up John for fear of upsetting you. When friends of ours tragically lost their son on his 14th birthday no less, I always made a point to talk to them about their son. He didn't just disappear, he died and they needed to talk about him and all the memories that people had of him.

Anonymous said...

Seeing a picture would be nice but to see it on a fundraising page? That gets a little dicey for me.

Anonymous said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto!! My brother died on Decmeber the 8th and his estranged wife (I assume it was her) had his facebook account taken down immediately. She also called the day after he died wanting in his house to get his "assests" as she called them. It was as if she wanted to disassemble his life and make him disappear as quickly as possible. It hurt me so much. I agree with you that the picture should have just been left alone. Why are people so afraid to have reminders of the dead around? It is all those of us who loved them have left.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Snick. Grief is a strange and wonderful beast... everyone is looking at the world through their own lense.

I'm with you; I want those pictures and stories around. I want to make the food that only he would make; I want people to continue to share their memories with me. No hiding him.

-JG

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how to write this comment without sounding insensitive, since I disagree w/ most previous posters and Snick, so please know that I am very sorry for everyone's loss and I am NOT trying to be mean or contrary.

I think it was the right choice to take down the picture. It's not just the parents or boyfriend (not sure if the student had a significant other) who grieves. It's also friends, co-workers, her professors, etc... My best friend died 1.5 years ago and I'm still grieving and I was VERY offended when my alma mater sent out a newsletter w/ a picture of my friend. Basically, I was in the middle of cleaning my house and taking care of the kids and I grabbed the mail and glanced at the newsletter and BAM! It felt like I'd been slapped in the face. I didn't want to think about it right then; I didn't want to cry in front of my kids. I had been having a perfectly normal day and it made me feel terrible.

And I think it's like someone else already said, it's a little weird to have her pic on a fundraising site...

Kara said...

Well said! A young boy from my home town died of cancer and that was one of his father's biggest fears, that people would stop talking about him. My human reaction would have been the opposite!

cluelesscarolinagirl said...

You know what was weird. My dad died in 1997. I tried to talk about him with mom all the time and she didn't want to. They were BLISSFULLY married, so it wasn't that. I don't know. I do know now that she was showing signs of Alzheimer's as early as 2002 but even before that she didn't want to talk about him. It got worse as her disease progressed. Your guess is as good as mine on this one.