There is a new alien species on Star Trek Discovery, the Kelpien. The Kelpien officer is tall and lanky with an orange and pink skin tone, but an even more distinguishing feature are short, tentacle-like ganglia on the back of his head. These ganglia extend when the Kelpien senses a threat or a dangerous situation. The Kelpien character Saru poetically insinuates that his trait can “sense the coming of death.”
For us humans watching the show it is easy to spot the ganglia as they splay out from the back of Saru’s head, providing a physical symbol of apprehension. There is some evidence to support the notion that dogs and cats here on Earth can sense death shortly before it happens. It might sound strange but I felt like I could relate to Saru. Each time I have dealt with death I felt something unexplainable. Like a tsunami, a foreboding retreat of water that indicated something was wrong, but I could only stare at this phenomenon and wait for the wave to crash down.
I have tried to express some of that feeling in poems; poems about how I learned that someone I loved had just died. My uncle was the one who told me that my grandmother has passed away. It was very sudden and completely out of the blue. It was a Friday and I was in high school but I had a headache all day long. When I got home I immediately went to my room, turned off the lights, shut the blinds, and took a nap. When I woke up I felt disoriented, and I felt uneasy. The house felt wrong. The air around me was wrong. I heard clamoring downstairs, it was my uncle at the door. Where was my mom? He told me about Grandma. He left, my father came home. I had to tell my father the news. I remember so clearly how I was sitting on the couch in the living room, staring at nothing, my brain not working, our dog sitting so close to me, not leaving my side. She knew. My father came into the kitchen and began to have a snack, as for him life had not yet changed. I walked toward him and he asked me what was up. Somehow the words left my mouth even though I did not understand how they could possibly be true. “Grandma…died…” My father uttered something disbelieving and ran out of the house. I was left alone again with our dog, like I was trapped in mud while everyone rushed around me.
This type of moment occurred again, and again. Humans have an extra sense for bad news; the change often begins in the air although sometimes it is more internal. It is difficult for me to separate these feelings from my memories, even still as we approach the anniversary of certain deaths.
Facebook has a feature that allows you to see into the past. “On this day” allows you to view what you posted, or what someone else posted to you, in all the previous years you have had a Facebook. It is sometimes amusing to see what a younger version of yourself, a version fresh out of high school, was putting on the internet. But other times you have ghosts.
In the weeks and days before her sudden death, my aunt was posting a lot on my Facebook. We had seen each other recently even though she lived in Texas and I in New Jersey, and we had inside jokes and stories to share. When I check the “On this day” feature in early February I am presented with her smiling face and a funny quip she shared on my feed. I don’t know how to explain the feeling. There are so many times when it is a joy to see her, to see what we talked about. There are other times when I feel it like a knife in my heart. It looks so real, like she could still be alive and all I have to do is post something on her Facebook.
Social media is changing something about the way we deal with death and the way we grieve. In the weeks after Tyler’s death his Snapchat was still on the top of my friend’s list, one of the people I sent pictures to most frequently. His name and his texts were still near the top of my text chats. Using social media felt like walking across a minefield where reminders of his life would appear. Reminders of life that most often kept reminding me of his death.
I even found out about Tyler’s death because of a Facebook message from his friend in Italy. I woke up to her message that was asking me what had happened. Reading her questions, I felt the water begin to recede again…I was frantic on a shore watching a wave loom before me; something was wrong. Initially I was in complete shock as I read a slew of RIP posts on his Facebook profile; surely this was an elaborate prank and not a very funny one. Even as I stared in disbelief I felt the reality of this news pinging at the back of my brain.
Facebook profiles of the dead act as digital memorials. People post photos, memories, and stories. They still wish happy birthday’s, and send I miss you’s. These days there are numerous reminders of the ghosts we walk with, existing on our computers and our phones. In my contacts there are ghosts with their ghost phone numbers because “delete contact” is too permanent.
Maybe it is foolish, and maybe if my therapist knew she would be concerned that I am hanging onto the past. But as painful as these reminders can be, they are reminders of my friends and family, people who I loved very deeply. And I will ideally let the reminder of that love give me strength to continue.