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Will Blake.

Will Blake.

In the lead-up to his death from cancer last year, R U OK Day founder Gavin Larkin had the touching idea of delivering his own eulogy via a video he recorded.

To his family and friends, his message of love and encouragement was probably of small consolation, but in a sense his video, as well as his charity, give him a semblance of immortality.

Any time his loved ones want to experience his humanity or ponder his wisdom, they just have to visit his tribute website where they can see, hear and perhaps even feel his presence.

I'd never be so crude as to suggest Larkin has "cheated death" just because you can watch him on YouTube but he, like many other lesser-known Australians, now live on in the digital world.

Eternal life has been a fascination of mankind since our earliest moments, thus the almost universal theme of immortality that pervades mythology, religion and literature.

However, even though we live longer than ever, physical perpetuity is still as distant a reality as world peace.

Since the death of my stepfather Sean in 2011, just months after Larkin passed, I've nonetheless been struck by how much of our loved ones remain with us, thanks to technology.

My biological father Gus died in 1999 and I'm pretty sure he never even owned an answering machine, let alone a mobile phone. My physical memories of him are limited to photographs and a handful of short stories he wrote as a young man.

My stepfather Sean, though no technophile, was by default immersed in a level of connectivity many of us could barely have anticipated a decade ago. When you call our family home, he still greets us with his droll "you know the drill" suggestion for leaving a message.

To commemorate the first anniversary of his death, my mother decided to go overseas and stay at a Paris hotel where they'd shared some decadent nights.

While planning her itinerary, she jumped on to Google Maps to refresh her memory as to the hotel's exact location and there on "Street View" was my step-dad, standing on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette (yep, he died of cancer too).

Immortality? Probably not, but again, a semblance.

The writer Augusten Burroughs makes the observation in his new book This is How, that a "good death" is any one that ends in a bed.

Many people who've farewelled loved ones in such a way might disagree but the opportunity to say "goodbye" is denied countless people who die suddenly, in accidents or through trauma, war or natural disasters.

A woman I know was refused this chance when her son killed himself some years ago but she continued to pay his mobile phone bill for over a year afterwards, just so she could hear his cheeky voicemail message.

Tribute pages to the departed on Facebook, though cloying and histrionic in many cases, are no less worthy attempts by people to hold on to some part of those they cherish.

I know I still get a jolt of sadness, then surges of reminiscence when I see my dead cousin Will Blake's profile pop up on my list of social media friends.

Immortality? Again, not quite - but the funeral cliche of our loved ones "living on in our hearts" has certainly been augmented by their continued presence in our digital lives.

And they also can't unfriend us.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

26 comments so far

  • I can't remember if this quote is from Woody Allen or Mal Meninga but here goes:

    "I don't want to live on in my works. I want to live on in my apartment."

    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 9:09PM
    • Haha - love that quote. From woody allen and actually goes

      I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.

      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 1:51PM
  • I feel for anyone who loses a close family member. I have been blessed that both my parents and all my siblings are still with us, as is the extended family (in-laws and the like). My grandmother died a few years ago after a very lingering decline that was so cruel that the final moments really were blessed relief for her and everyone else that had watched her decline. She was in her mid 80s and in poor health for a long time.
    The advent of social media can be great, but also I wonder if for some that it may not help the grieving and healing but hold them back.
    It's a complex world in which we live.

    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 12:59AM
    • I am going to launch my usual contrarian view or downer by pointing out that many of the technologies that we have used are unreadable with todays technology and some of those we use now and somehow swear by will be unreadable in a few short years.
      Photos in a book can last but most of our digital memories will be unreadable as 8 inch, 5 inch and 3.5 inch disks.
      Memories can fade too. I sometimes forget how my father looked and have to refer to the memory of a photo of him a few months before his death 37 years ago. I forget my sister even though there is a photo of her after she was born before her short life ended a few short sickly months later. That was over 50 years ago.
      For those who think that immunisation is unnecessary for children all I can say that had the immunisation been available that my sister may have lived and I might not have caught the childhood illness that caused her death.
      For those of you with children, immunise them.

      The Old Guy
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 1:01AM
      • It's only a matter of time before someone creates an app to congeal a digital presence and make it searchable and available.

        Want to know what your departed loved one thought about koalas? Type in the question and the app - searching through every blog, Facebook entry, YouTube history, dating sites, Pinterest, Amazon history, everything - spits out an answer, linking to the related source.

        Where should I go on holiday? Dearly Departed loved Germany, not so pleased with India.

        There is so much of us that will be hanging around on servers somewhere that an algorithm could give at least a cheap semblance of us after we die.

        Date and time
        December 04, 2012, 5:17AM
        • Now that scares me. I would prefer everything about me to be ashes to the wind.

          delete my digital footprint
          Date and time
          December 04, 2012, 8:37AM
        • There'll be a paid service for that, as well. You can include it in your will.

          Date and time
          December 04, 2012, 11:42AM
        • and then there will digital avatars of your with all of your memories that can be uploaded to a new physical form leading on a slippery slope to cylons....hehehe

          Date and time
          December 06, 2012, 1:26PM
      • I do not see this as a bad thing. My family tree can only be traced back around 300 years and all you get beyond 3 generations ago is date of birth, date of marriage, date of death, maiden name in the case of the wenches and if you are lucky a job title

        genealogists lounge
        Date and time
        December 04, 2012, 8:04AM
        • I always hated that funeral cliche that the dead "live on in us". Then, some time after my brother died, it clicked. He quite literally does - I would be a different person, I imagine, if I had never known him. The impact of his life (and death) on me and everybody else close to him will carry on for long years yet.

          But then the cynical part of me pops up to tell me it's all cold comfort because the fact is that he's dead, and no amount of platitudes or Facebook videos of him drunk change that. I think grasping after immortality for our loved ones is just a placebo - perhaps a necessary one for a while, but in the end if you can't accept they have been eradicated from this world then you have a problem.

          Or do you? Who knows. If somebody is happy in their delusion that they can talk to their dead wife through a medium, I'm not about to crap on their dreams.

          Date and time
          December 04, 2012, 9:03AM

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