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Facebook an online wake when celebrities die

How fast do you hit the “share” button on Facebook when a celebrity dies?

R.I.P., famous person.

I can't believe you're gone! Too soon!

Though honestly? I hadn't thought about you in years. More honestly? I wasn't sure you were still alive.

But, along with a few thousand friends, I can't wait to share the heartbreaking news of your demise on Facebook!

Does this sound familiar?

If you're a Facebook user, it does. With every new week, logging into Facebook is more like visiting a celebrity graveyard.

Day after day, it seems, some celebrity is "trending" due to the news that he or she has slipped out of this mortal circus.

A few are young, and drugs are usually involved, but among my Facebook cohort, most are middle-aged or older.

They're the TV and movie stars we grew up with, the musicians who gave us the lyrics we can still recite by heart and the tunes we still hum. There's the occasional politician worth a lament, sometimes even a writer.

As they peel off one by one, Facebook becomes the place to mourn not only their passing but what their deaths say about our own passage through time.

But, forgive me if this sounds insensitive: The relentless Facebook celebrity funerals can tucker a living person out.

In olden times, before Facebook, the death of a famous person was something we read about in the newspaper, or heard on radio or TV, then maybe mentioned to one or two people.

Now we're all town criers, heralding the death of the famous as fast as we can.

The trend — one I'll admit I've occasionally abetted — reached its zenith recently with the news that Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock on "Star Trek," had died at the age of 83. For hours after the news broke, my Facebook feed was a nonstop wake.

Image after image of Nimoy — most often in his Spock uniform — cascaded past, interrupted occasionally by a pet photo.

"I don't normally jump on the memorial bandwagon every time a luminary dies," one Nimoy fan posted. "My grief here goes beyond Facebook-sad."

Facebook-sad. It's a good term.

To me, Facebook-sad means a kind of sad that isn't all that sad, a sentiment that's closer to startled than to grieving.

True sadness lodges in you for a while. Facebook-sad is more superficial, a jolt to the heart but not a break. It doesn't last much longer than it takes to post the news and see how many people comment.

When I asked my Facebook friend what he meant by "Facebook-sad," he said it referred to "the half-second of impulse and desire to be first among our Facebook contemporaries to point to something."

However, he added, his feeling about Nimoy was deeper than that.

"Like many people my age and older, I grew up with 'Star Trek,'" he emailed. "It informed relationships with relatives and friends. Moments after the news broke, I texted an uncle whose love of 'Star Trek' informed my own and thanked him for being influential in that regard. Nimoy's death reminded me that, behind the poorly constructed sets and cheesy special effects, there was a message of equality and inclusion."

The last time I was Facebook-sad was after the recent death of the poet and songwriter Rod McKuen. I surprised myself by posting news of his death; I don't think I'd given him a thought since high school, except maybe to remember that his poems were sappy.

But when I learned he'd died, I flashed back to sitting on my bed in Phoenix with my mother's copy of "Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows" in my lap, riveted by what seemed like the first adult poems I'd ever read.

Posting news of McKuen's death was a small bow to him but it was also a brief reconnection with that teenage girl who sat in a hot, little, crowded house and dreamed of love in San Francisco.

After I posted, I enjoyed the comments from all the Facebook friends who had similar stories about his poems, so maybe I was somewhere between Facebook-sad and truly sad.

But all of us should choose our celebrity-obit posts carefully. Don't overload your friends.

No matter how much you hope to be first with the news, you won't be.

Twitter @MarySchmich

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