Letting go of someone I never knew

November 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog

I had an oddly poignant experience on Twitter yesterday — I know, the last place you’d ever expect to encounter something poignant.

I was going through the list of people I follow and was removing those who are just trying to sell something, as well as all the self-proclaimed “marketing gurus,” “life coaches,” and political pundits. Just part of the necessary pruning and cleaning one occasionally must do in the world of social media platforms. Nothing new there.

But in the midst of this utterly banal chore, I came to the Twitter profile of Ginger, a Catholic woman whose profile picture I only vaguely remembered seeing before and whose posts I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. Opening her profile, I saw that her last several posts were from mid 2009 and were about her rapid decline from lung cancer. In one, she expressed how hard it was for her to deal with the shock of having just been diagnosed by her physician as “terminal.” A few posts later, her comment stream just . . . ended.

Nothing more.

I Googled her name and saw that she died that summer, not long after her last post, mourned, no doubt, by many grief-stricken family and friends. She was only 41.

This brought back the sad memory of another Catholic woman I knew quite well and very much admired — a vibrant and vital young wife and mother of just 44 — who also died of lung cancer in September of that same year. A pang of melancholy rose up in me at that still-painful remembrance.

Gazing at Ginger’s picture, the mouse cursor poised over the “unfollow” button in her profile, I was moved by the realization that, even though she had died some time ago and I would therefore never see any further posts from her, still . . . by pressing “unfollow,” I would be, in a certain sense, letting go of her. It seemed strange that it should occur to me that way — after all, I never knew her personally. I was only aware of her existence through Twitter — a dim and superficial awareness of someone, to be sure. But still, there had been the slightest of connections there, albeit nothing more than pixels on a screen.

In that moment, an image from the movie Titanic arose in my mind; the one in which Rose is lying on a piece of floating debris holding on with one hand to the now dead Jack, almost entirely submerged in the frigid water. As she lets go of his hand, he sinks slowly into oblivion. True, those two were illicit lovers. In Ginger’s case, well, she was someone I had ever even met or spoken to before, much less known personally.

And yet, for a few brief, uncanny moments, my mind was pervaded by that poignant image of Rose letting go of Jack’s hand.

I pressed “unfollow,” and in so doing said a kind of electronic “goodbye” to a sister in Christ I never knew, except through the medium of an ephemeral, tenuous, and insignificant collection of pixels on my computer screen. And then, I said a prayer for the repose of her soul.
How strange, it seems to me, and how perfectly fitting at the same time, that the Lord makes use of even something as casual and (seemingly) inconsequential as Twitter to remind the members of His Body of their connection to each other.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.

(Originally published on February 2, 2011.)

UPDATE: About a month after I wrote this piece, I was speaking at a Catholic parish, and Ginger’s grieving husband came up to me to say how touched he had been to read it. We embraced. I can’t begin to explain how hearing his words made me feel.

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29 Responses to “Letting go of someone I never knew”
  1. Nina Liz says:

    In my continuing education of the faith, I learned that the souls in purgatory cannot pray for themselves. This is why we should pray always for all whom we knew or loved. I also became aware of the “Novena for the Dead” and prayed it for my husband for the nine days leading to the anniversary of his death. On the ninth day I also had a mass said for him at my parish. As I pulled out of the church parking lot after mass, a car immediately pulled out in front of me which was the exact model that my husband drove. I took it as a gesture of appreciation from him. Praying the novena also lessened my anxiety about the approaching anniversary, brought me peace and made me feel loved again.

  2. Peggy Burnham says:

    I knew Ginger very well for the last several years of her life. We spoke almost every day during a large portion of that time. Ginger had asked God to let her suffer for the conversion of sinners, and God most certainly heard that prayer. She had a wonderful sense of humor, and also a very deep spiritual side. She knew when the cancer resurfaced that it would be terminal, but she was all right with that. She would miss her two children and her grand babies, born and in the womb, but she said she could do more for them from heaven than here on earth. I have inherited the job she used to do, and thus am reminded of her almost every day. I don’t pray for her; I pray to her. Ginger Armenta Jacquez, pray for us.

  3. Tina says:

    I got teary eyed reading this.

    I was most amazed by the updated story. By posting this simple story you were actually able to meet Ginger’s husband, how Holy Spirit is that?

    WOW!

  4. Bridget says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. When I finished reading it, I just started crying. It goes to show you that our lives touch people when we don’t even know it.

  5. Sylvia says:

    Absolutely touching eternal rest grant to her grant unto her o Lord and let perceptual light shine upon her have mercy on her soul. In a world where the traditional rosary novena not being said after a deceased I am grateful that site like yours exsist. Where we can read testimonies such as this to remind us that we are all brothers and sisters through Christ our lord and should never forget that fact. She is certainly in my prayers. God bless you and yours Patrick

  6. Arturo Gallegos says:

    This is odd. Just yesterday would have been my older brother’s 56th birthday. He died two years ago. In the afternoon, just after 12:00, I said a Rosary, a particular Rosary that I was saying about the time of his death, and for some time now, I had been wondering what it was that made this Rosary so sad. I found out yesterday.

  7. Lisa Graas says:

    Never forget that there are real people out there tweeting with real lives.

  8. Valerie Joy Kreilicki says:

    Patrick,

    I was fortunate to meet Ginger at a Women’s Bible study when I was returning to the faith after a six year hiatus. I am so grateful for your endearing post that reveals how interconnected the Body of Christ truly is. Thank you for republishing this amazing post that reveals how interconnected we truly are! God Bless you and all your work!

    Sincerley, Valerie

  9. SULLY says:

    Very Beautiful!

  10. Kim says:

    Wow, it gave me goosebumps reading this. Ginger was my friend. I met her in the 7th grade. This woman suffered more tragedy in her life than anyone I have ever known. She lost loved ones to tragic events, including her father in a car accident, her brother, who took his life, and her husband in a car accident just a couple of years before her first cancer diagnosis. She met and became engaged to a wonderful man, and shortly afterward, learned that cancer was back and more widespread and aggressive.

    And yet, she had an amazing faith that grew from each of her sufferings. She was and is an inspiration.

  11. Andrea says:

    I lost a cherished friend two years ago. She had an active Facebook presence, since she was loved by many. None of us “unfriended” her after her unexpected death; instead, we remained in touch through that page, posting reminiscences, prayers, and information. Through that page, money was raised for a gravestone for her. Her beloved house was saved from demolition. Her friends became acquainted, and her causes have been carried forward after her life on earth was over.

    Social media can be misused, but sometimes it can have a unifying effect for those left behind. Don’t quickly unfriend or unfollow those who die, because there may be something left for those still on earth.

  12. Patty Bonds says:

    I've had a similar experience at work. A wonderful Catholic man who was very popular at work because of his warmth and joy passed away after a battle with limphoma. He thought he had won the battle and returned to work only to have it over take him two days later. I keep the map of the floor and inventory of all the equipment. I keep meaning to takez his name of the inventory, but I just can't quite do it. Mike Castagna, rest in peace brother.

  13. guardianangelsofeducation says:

    You may have let her go electronically, and perhaps physically, but rest assured (pun intended), she has not let go of you spiritually. This blog entry is a testament to that.

  14. quiddity2001 says:

    Thanks for the post Patrick. For all that is said about social media, this is an example where it made some connection for both parties. Now, her soul is remembered and prayed for, a spiritual work of mercy-a powerful act at that.
    I have had many friends and family that have passed. I started a list on my pc and update it every year around All Souls Day. I print it out and include it in my All Souls Day novena envelope. I hope when the time comes for me, someone might consider doing the same for me.
    Reading that list always brings back good memories for me and lets me dwell on the good they brought my life.

  15. doanli aka "orange blossom" says:

    Lord,

    Eternal Rest grant unto Ginger, and may Perpetual Light shine upon her.

    Have mercy on her, and please bring comfort to her loved ones.

    Thank you for writing about her, Patrick—

  16. GoodForm says:

    This Feb. 16th is the 2nd anniversary of my dad's death. I still have his cell phone number listed in my contacts on my cell phone. It says, "Dad". I don't want to delete it, and won't. It's just another small piece of my dad, however insignificant, that I hold on to and cherish.

  17. Nick says:

    If there's a page for the dearly departed on FB, be sure to add Ginger and the other woman to it, as well as – if you wish – my grandfather Dick.

  18. dancingcrane says:

    Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.

    May we all remember that there is always a real person on the other side of our screen. Once upon a time, there were people whose only connection was through letters. Daily we might read books from people hundreds of years dead, and find connection. Our way is faster, but holds the same potential to unite us. To be moved to prayer means the union is real, however fleeting it might have been in chronological time. By the grace of God, she may well be praying for you now. Life is precious…and forever.

  19. Finola says:

    Lovely hope-filled post Patrick! I hope too that if I ever am at death's door you will say a prayer(or ten!) for me. Great thing about the world of technology. It struck me too as I am reading a little book called Send me your Guardian Angel about St Pio who called upon the angels all the time – how we can literally take a quick moment to ask our Guardian angel to help that person in their pain, loneliness and distress.
    God rest Ginger's soul, and may the angels have already escorted her into paradise.

  20. Billgx says:

    Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age by Pope Benedict XVI, is a much needed statement on our digital connectedness. Your post today illustrates the desired authenticity of the online Christian. To you, the person on Twitter was indeed a person and not merely a network connection. Too often these days we use technology to distance ourselves from real-live breathing and feeling human beings. Your story demonstrates the possibility of life online enhancing our lives in the real world through connecting us with others we would not otherwise know. Obviously Patrick, in some way you touched Ginger's life. She likely appreciated your message of hope and as a result was connected to you through Twitter. And now she has many praying for her, all because of a "silly" social network.

  21. Roxane B. Salonen says:

    Beautiful. I have a deceased friend who I knew mainly through online means. She's still a Facebook friend and I pray for her soul and her family every time she pops up in my "friends" box. I know how real these things can be. You're right – God uses all sorts of means to reach us.

  22. John Hadley Strange says:

    Extremely moving. Thank you very much for sharing. Sort of like when the last shovel of dirt is put on the grave!

  23. Dcn Scott Dodge says:

    Patrick:

    I read this post after receiving the shocking news that someone who once sought my counsel in her struggle with alcoholism was brutually murdered just before Christmas. I have no doubt that I was led to your post.

    Thanks.
    Dcn Scott

  24. Lisa Graas says:

    Very moving. I lost someone I know and still have not unfollowed her on Twitter. Thanks for this.

  25. Disciple says:

    (I have tears in my eyes, Patrick.) Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen

  26. Patrice Egging says:

    The Communion of Saints. This is one reason I am so glad to be Catholic.

  27. Annie says:

    Yes, thank you very much for a beautiful post. It's a good reminder that there are real people on the other end of the keyboards. And I too join you in praying for her. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen

  28. justacatholicgirl says:

    Patrick, Thank you for sharing this! Very touching and I will join you in praying for her soul! Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen

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