This Week in Elder News: 12 July 2008
The New Yorker Cover

And When I Die...

[UPDATE: 108-year-old Olive Riley of Life of Riley died Saturday in the nursing home where she had lived for several years. I've not been able to access her blog, undoubtedly due to her many fans trying to visit. With the help of her friend, Mike Rubbo, she wrote a lively, feisty blog. I certainly won't be the only one who will miss her.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have not taken the Retirement Survey yet, please do. Information and links are here.]

blogging bug image Not meaning to tempt fate (for those who believe in such superstitions), it’s amazing, for a blog where old people have been hanging out for four years, how many of us are still alive. Or, from another point of view, how few of us are dead.

Hundreds on the Elderbloggers List - along with tens of thousands and more of us in the wider blogosphere - remain at our computers tapping out our rants and recipes, joys and sorrows, thoughts and ideas. Maybe blogging is good for longevity…

But all good things, including life and, therefore, our blogs eventually end. I was reminded of this when Joycelyn Ward, who blogged magnificently as Maya’s Granny, died in June. Her son-in-law posted a sweet story about Joycelyn at his blog. Her daughter, J, posted a remembrance at Maya’s Granny with photos from Joycelyn’s life and since then on her own blog, Thinking About…, she has continued to write about her mother as she works through her loss and her grief.

This sharing of stories and thoughts from Joycelyn’s family – perhaps it could be called a blog memorial service - has been crucial to her blog readers and internet friends. And we are friends even though most of us never meet in person.

That is an astonishing phenomenon of blogging – how close we become through reading our stories, comments, arguments, sharing laughter, lives and, when needed, commiseration.

With some, we move on to email, phone calls and the occasional opportunity to spend a little time together in the “real world.” But mostly it is our written words that connect us more closely than many expect when they begin a blog.

All that thinking we churn out, along with our individual writing styles are how we come to care about one another. Even if you are not trying to explain yourself on your blog, who you are comes through. I do not believe that any blogger who tried could maintain a false façade for long. Character cannot help but be revealed over time.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece trying to place blog friends among our concentric circles of attachments:

  1. Immediate family
  2. Closest friends
  3. Extended family
  4. Other frequent social contacts
  5. Work colleagues
  6. Neighbors
  7. Acquaintances

Items on your list could differ in the middle, but we can probably agree that numbers 1 and 7 are properly placed, and wherever you list blog friends then, they too are people who would want to know when you die.

Not all of us have family members, as Joycelyn Ward does, who would think to publish an announcement of our death on our blog. If they are not bloggers, they may not understand how important we are to one another. Or they may not know how to do it. Or, particularly if they are non-bloggers, may not know what to say or how to say it. Death of a loved one is hard enough without having to figure out something new while grief itself is new.

We leave last wills and testaments to parcel out our belongings. Some design their own funerals or memorials. Others leave letters for loved ones to be opened upon their death. So why should we not also prepare a last blog post for our readers.

I first wrote mine about three years ago and I update it now and then which gives a good reason to look back over several months or a year to get an overview of what’s been happening at Time Goes By. And yes, it begins with, “If you’re reading this, I’m dead.”

It’s a good idea to note the location of your last blog post and place that information with the papers your survivors will need right away. Along with that, precise instructions on how to post it with ID and passwords are needed, detailed enough so that a non-blogger can work through posting it step by step.

Because Time Goes By is hosted on a fee service, I’ve directed that enough money be set aside to pay the host and domain registrar for a year. Those who blog on free services such a Blogger need not be concerned about their blog disappearing.

When a blogger dies, a community dies with it. Yes, we are interconnected through blogrolls and overlapping readership that extends infinitely outward, but each blog is a singular township too. It is peopled in the same ways of cities and towns with relationships ranging from nodding acquaintances to as tight as it gets. These relationships are, to me, of equal importance with real-life friends and we can, with a final blog post, remember one another in our death as we do now in life.

Although it may seem peculiar to attach social obligations to one's own death, a final blog post is the polite thing to do. If nothing else, it’s a chance to have the last word, and I’m not letting an opportunity like that get past me.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Peter Tibbles repeats some conversation from a long-ago romance in The Fillmore Variations.]


So much of what you posted this morning speaks to me. I started reading blogs about 6 months ago and started my own 4 months ago.
It is a challenge for me and a learning experience.
Never did I expect what has happened. New friends of all ages. Some share more often then others. I look forward to their emails sharing many aspects of their lives. I have been encouraged and think I have encouraged others. Blogging has opened up a new world for me that I truly did not expect.
Moving to a new location and basically starting over at retirement age I thought it is going to be more difficult then ever to make new friends. I feel invisable in this area. But the suprise is that I am making new friends not in this local community but world wide through the blogging world.
So you have brought up a new thought for me this early morning.
Should we not prepare something for our blogging community in case of our death. I know if the few people I correspond with just suddenly quit blogging I would wonder. What has happened?

Ronni, perhaps you need another project. LOL Set up a Memorial site to pay tribute to those we have grown to know and only learn of their deaths weeks later. We could comment there for their families to know how important their loved one was to others.

Also, I'm putting papers with our Trust documents today with instructions to place a notification on my blog when I die.

Just yesterday I was thinking that my blog gives me a sort of immortality. Look how often you go to look something up and discover the online information is several years old and still floating around out there in cyberspace.

Also, like you I was noticing a few bloggers who died and one, "PD Budd" I think, who stopped posting - just disappeared - last December after commmenting about being treated for cancer.

I would be afraid to write a post announcing my death (for future use) in case a Mary Tyler Moore moment occurred - the show where she and Rhoda were messing around with the pre-written obituaries and one was used by mistake.

You’re so funny sometimes! About getting the last word in, I mean. Ha!

So many times I’ve wondered how I should handle the handling (?!) of my blog in the event of my death happening while I’m still blogging. I guess I COULD leave very detailed instructions for whomever. You’ve spurred me on to bring it up with my husband and ask if he wants instructions left for HIM or for someone else, if he’s still around and I’m not.

I DO already have a big file of instructions for this and that in relation to my death. It’s called my “If I should die before I wake” file. There really are a lot of details to consider, and I lead a rather simple life! I think the worst (and most disrespectful) thing is to pass away and leave nothing for your spouse to help him/her make their way through those details. Just when you’re grieving… the LAST thing you’ll need is to have to concentrate on that kind of stuff.

I’m sorry to hear of Olive’s passing.

It was a genuine kindness what the family of Maya's Granny did for the blogging community. I'm sure they were equally thoughtful of the local community, as well as distant friends and relations.

How many of us forget the wider community at times of personal loss, somehow forgetting that others love and respect our loved ones, too. One thing I learned from my mother was to make a list of friends and acquaintances who should be notified of my death, along with phone numbers and addresses. I have not yet made arrangements for my blog, but you have encouraged me to do so.

We Americans do not like to think of growing older and eventually dying. Our society has encouraged us to think that we can remain forever young. The subject of personal death is taboo. This is reflected in the many, many funerals that have to be arranged quickly, the untold numbers of people who do not leave a will, and the loose ends that take forever to work out.

That's another thing I learned from my mother: Everything was planned at her death, down to the hymns to sing at her funeral. What a relief it was to be able to celebrate her life rather than having to deal with funeral homes!

What a great idea! Since I'm 75, with no children or other close living relatives, I plan to write that final blog post soon and put it with my will and other important papers. Perhaps one of my grandnieces will post it for me.

Yes, when her daughter let us know how Joycelyn was doing and now we can see how she is. Blogs are wonderful that way.

We do form friendships through the blog and I certainly did with another blogger, Winston of Nobody Asked. I regularly read his opinions and when I went there to read from his wife that he had died suddenly, it was such a shock I had to reread her words to be sure it was for real.

Whether we have met blogging friends (and at this point I have not yet met any bloggers that I didn't already know) or just regularly read their words, email and sometimes phone each other, it still is a real friendship and a real loss when they die. It is definitely good that there is someone who knows how to post a blog for us and will notify readers rather than just disappearing.

Too bad you can't archive your words in a free blog so that they are not lost when you do pass on, hopefully many years in the future. You have a lot of real information that would be good to keep out there in the internet world for someone to find with a search. Although I will say nothing lasts forever, and I expect even the free blogs will someday be gone and an 'improved' system will take their place.

I am so sorry to hear of Olive's death, It makes the DVD I have of her all the more precious. She certainly had a very long life.

Your "if you're reading this, I'm dead" final blog is a good idea. Each Christmas I cross another name off my card list because I haven't heard from them for several years. At my age the normal assumption is that they are dead. It would have been thoughtful for someone to go through their address book and notify everyone and not leave friends wondering.

I met several interesting elders when I traveled and we kept in touch by mail. When they died a family member notified me, even though I was only a recent friend.

That act was so considerate that I have instructed my daughter to do likewise. I will now add instructions to post my final blog.

How *synchronistic* that your blog this morning is talking about
preparing a last blog post for our readers. I used your last blog
to literally say what I wanted to be played at my funeral!
I love the video that you posted on your site Saturday
of Joni Mitchel singing "I've Looked At Both Sides Now".
I found the words and posted them also....beautiful poetry.
Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention......
And I love Nikki's idea of creating a “If I should die before I wake” file.
(Great theme for another blog!) Your thoughts on all this (along with my instructions) will be the first entry in my "before I wake" file along with the Joni Mitchel video.

I'm so sorry to hear about Olive. She certainly had some tales to tell.
Your idea is a good one. I'll have to teach my son and daughter how to put up the last post!

At 57, I'm getting to the age where "things start happening" to people you know and love. Thanks for this reminder to stay connected. I'm making sure my husband will make that last post for me.

Sorry to hear that Olive passed, but at 108 I'd guess she was probably ready. Heck, I'm only 66 and some days I almost feel ready. Your idea of writing a "if you're reading this I'm dead" final blog is actually a good idea. I've been chewing on it all day since reading this earlier in the day, and soon as I can fit it in, that's what I think I'll do. Like you say, Ronni, it's good to have the last word! AND hopefully have a good long time to edit carefully! After all, it'll be those words that will hang on years after I'm gone. I enjoyed not just this post but all the comments as well. A good bunch of people!

I started my blog in February and my blogging friends are already very precious to me. One night recently my husband asked what happens to a blog when the author dies. He said, "Afterall, this is like a little western town." I'm not sure why he thought of western town, except the analogy made sense to me. At each blog we have our Marshal, or Teacher, or Preacher, or Town Crier and the structure of the town fans out from there...
I did not think further about leaving instructions for him to publish a "Gone Fishin'" post when I die, but now I will!

A last blog post. That's food for thought. What I HAVE done is get my # 1 son to at least do a post for me after I'm gone to let my cyber friends know.
My husband told me about the oldest blogger today - I hadn't heard of her before.
Blogging has certainly been 'another door' as in one door closes and another opens and I am truly thankful for it.
I have only met one cyber friend in the flesh but am looking forward to meeting two more, who I admire, and are paying me the compliment of taking a long drive to meet up. I do hope I don't disappoint them:)

I would really like to find a way to archive my blog when I die or quit blogging. We have been going through our parents old letters and they are such a treasure. I hate the thought that emails and blogs don't get saved that way. I suppose I could start printing an archive or put one on a disk.....

Ronni, Your blog should be archived more than most. 100 years from now it would provide real historical perspective on our time.

As often, this post has made me remember a few things and even made me write a post! A thing that hadn't happened in a long time.
Thanks, Ronni! ;)

That's a great idea. More than once I've known someone that has disappeared from the net. I usually assume the worse.

I also think people's blogs should be preserved. I wish the Library of Congress had some kind of program to store blogs for history. Most people will never be famous but their family may want to read their thoughts someday. I sure wish my father had had a blog. He died when I was 19 and for all my life I've wondered about what he thought about various things.

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