A poignant Facebook birthday for this physician

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Facebook is a remarkable thing. I use it for private matters — to keep in touch with family and friends from long ago. Because of it, I’ve reconnected with people from every stage of my life, as far back as third grade to high school to college and beyond. One of the nicest things about Facebook is the reminders of when it’s someone’s birthday. As one who has been on the receiving end of “Happy Birthday” wishes from across the world, it truly makes one feel special, and loved. I never thought about how those birthday reminders could ever induce anything but smiles, but then last week, I got one that I greeted with solemnity, even sadness.

“It’s Kristina’s birthday today!” Facebook reminded me. Kristina is my best friend — well, she was … until she died from breast cancer. I used my blog on ASCO Connection to mourn, celebrate, and remember her. I had to search to find it — to remind myself how long it’s been since she’s been gone, and to my surprise, two years had gone by. Somehow, it felt like months ago, and I was shocked to see how pain left in the past could feel so raw once more.

One of the things Kristina worried most about towards the end of her life was that she would not be remembered. I think mostly she worried that her sons would forget her face, her voice, her smile, and the way she laughed. She worried they would forget how much she loved them and how sad she was to leave. I think she also worried that she had so much left to do — she had dreams she wanted to fulfill, like finishing her doctoral degree. And I think she worried that her friends would move on.

Perhaps that was true before the Internet, before social media. But now, I realize social media has immortalized her. Her circle of friends on Facebook became friends themselves, online. We connected through her, and those bonds remain even now, years later. Her husband still posts online, and we are able to see her children grow and see just how much of her eyes and smile are embedded in her boys. And we are able to chat with each other — see each others’ updates, share in each others’ lives, even if it is in a small way. That this has happened and persists today is just what Kristina would have wanted. She was always introducing her friends to other friends, hoping we would all see something in common, as she had with each of us, and grow into one big happy social network.

Yet, even as we are now a part of a larger circle of Kristina’s friends, there is no getting around the realization that the one who brought us together is no longer here, and I miss her. Two years later, I still hear her infectious laugh, the sound of her voice, and the way she would look at you when you spoke, as if you were the most important person in the world. Forget her? I think no one who ever met her could do that. Certainly, I could not.

Ultimately, I took to Facebook to wish my dear friend “Happy Birthday,” and though I still missed her, I found comfort in the friends I’ve made online who wished her the same. Although we’ve never met, their words and pictures felt like hugs, reaching across the Internet to share a moment of silence and blow out a candle in honor of one who died too soon.

Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Kristina, Happy Birthday to you.

Don S. Dizon is an oncologist who blogs at ASCO Connection. This article originally appeared in the Oncologist.

Image credit: JaysonPhotography / Shutterstock.com

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