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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Online Essence

My dad passed away on Thanksgiving six years ago. Late that night he sat in his arm chair with a glass of scotch and closed his eyes. Every year since, as I prepare pies, set tables and mash potatoes for my husband’s family, Dad is here with me. It’s a good thing. He spent his last day comparing and enjoying desserts at my sister’s house and went away from us happy and at peace. Since I started heavy-duty holiday prep today, he’s on my mind. I’m indulging myself and resurrecting this piece I wrote four years ago.

Two years after my father died, I find myself Googling him. A Boolean search with quotation marks in the right place allows me to eliminate the thousands of entries pertaining to an Australian car model with the same name, and hone in on my dad. As of this date, a record of a donation he made to the Friends of Harvard Celtic Studies pops up, as well as an acknowledgement of his status on the board of trustees at a local bank. Scrolling down, I discover legal articles of incorporation he filed as an attorney for a local restaurant chain--and two archived notices of his death.

Recently, a family friend died under tragic circumstances. The day after the funeral, I sat down in front of the computer again and Googled this man’s name. When I located a picture of him and forwarded it to others in my family, it struck me that among the many things that have changed with the advent of the Internet, the Web has altered how we process grief.

While Google has become a mainstay for those trying to track down old friends and classmates who still live, I’m finding it a comforting resource in which to stay connected those who do not. In my Dad’s case, an attorney whose law firm bore his name until several years ago, the footprints I locate on the Internet keep family history fresh, in spite of his passing.

Once my Dad retired, his law firm name was purchased by a larger group, after which a typical transition took place. For a few years, the merged business combined the names of both corporations. It was a mouthful for the receptionist but eased the transition for clients of my dad’s firm. Once a suitable time went by, Dad's office name was dropped entirely. So his name is off the masthead, and I find myself wondering whether his picture still hangs on the wall of the conference room named for him, an honor bestowed upon his retirement.

But while the physical evidence of his senior partnership may be a thing of the past; confirmations of my dad’s professional life are everywhere on the Internet, records of business he conducted personally, as well transcripts pertaining to partners and associates of the old law firm in which my dad’s name had center billing. Before this online age, when a firm changed hands, the stationary was replaced and those seeking the legal past had to travel to the Registry of Deeds or a county courthouse. Now old case law featuring my dad is available at the click of a mouse, easier to find and read and print.

Without the Internet, it would have unlikely for me to stumble upon a letter my Dad wrote to Time Magazine in 1938, taking issue with a sports article about an up and coming Boston hockey goalie. Post Internet, I typed in a few letters, and was elated to find unexpected proof of my sixteen-year-old Dad, a rabid sports fan.

These little surprises help me know my dad more, even though he’s no longer here to share the stories in person. Yes there is a grave to visit, and photo albums and keepsakes, but they offer the finite and unchanging “bricks and mortar” of my dad. At times that I feel particularly sad about his passing though, the computer offers consolation in confirmation of his everyday life--his essence called up by my fingertips, any time I need to see him.


Sharon said...

Connections with those we love... possibly one of the best uses of Google that I never even considered. I'll raise a toast to your Dad and mine as well with a little Glenlivet - neat - on Thanksgiving Day. Wishing you and yours a warm and happy holiday.

Wander to the Wayside said...

"He spent his last day comparing and enjoying desserts at my sister’s house and went away from us happy and at peace"...isn't that how all of us would like to go!

I think Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where we're more likely to think of loved ones who have left us - at least that's the case with me. And certainly in your case!

glnroz said...

humm,,nice,, Happy Thanksgiving,,:)

J.B. Chicoine said...

How can reading about Internet Searches get me all choked up? Now I need a tissue.

Umā said...

Wow, I see what you mean about knowing how I felt this week. Thank you for your comments and for keeping my family and I in your thoughts.
And have a wonderful Thanksgiving.