Mourning on the Internet

The past weeks have been difficult. My former art history professor, Yates Evans, at the TCC Visual Arts Center, ended his life earlier this month. I don’t claim to have been especially close to the man, but he was my friend and I feel his loss. I can’t imagine the devastation his family and life long friends must be feeling. I haven’t had much time to process this. Someone’s death, especially someone not related to you, doesn’t make the world stop around you. There is school and work. You can’t take a break. I actually am home because I only had school today and I needed a day to just pause and recover from regular stress and delayed grief.

I miss him. We had future plans to be in a group show together. He was a huge influence on me and always supportive. He was one of those teachers who was always wound up and really enjoyed what he was teaching. He didn’t teach directly from the textbook and invited his students to challenge it and him.

His death was a shock but not a complete surprise. He wasn’t quick to share his problems but he was a passionate man clearly in emotional pain. I wish he hadn’t made the choice that he had, and I’d be lying if I pretended not be feeling anger over his choice. He was always supportive and complementary to his students to the point that he didn’t seem to have enough left over good feelings just for himself.

A Facebook page, In Memory of Yates Evans, popped up not long after his death. I found myself scrolling through my friends list and stopped on a picture of a man cuddling with a fluffy kitten. He looked familiar but my recognition was slow. When I realized it was was Yates I felt like I had been socked in the jaw and literally yelled out loud. Facebook was the one place I never expected to see a picture of him. At school he was notoriously camera shy and regularly railed against the evils of internet social networking. For those reasons I at first felt almost anxious that now here he was, on the internet, in pictures, after his death, but then I thought about it more and tried to find some humor in it.

I commented on the wall and it actually felt kinda good. I realized it wasn’t up to him anymore how his family, friends and students remembered him. I thought it was very generous of others who knew him better to share their memories.

Yet, mourning on the internet is a bit loaded. I kept going back to the page to reread what I wrote, wondering if it was okay, too gushy or indulgent. Because, there it is, on the internet. Of course I could delete it, but couldn’t that be conspicuous? It’s all a bit different than wondering how you were perceived in a short conversation a week ago that can’t be rehashed perfectly and naturally fades with time.

Then add to that the action of ‘liking’ the page that memorializes the death of someone you miss dearly. It’s a small thing and doesn’t matter much but it did feel a bit gross and inappropriate.

I had a chance to sit in his current class while they were given the news by his mentor and boss, the Visual Arts Center director and a grief counselor. I didn’t anticipate it being a very useful experience, but when compared to writing on a memorial internet wall space…it really was a powerful and sad experience. There I was talking to people rather than just myself. It was okay to cry. I’m not someone who is comfortable expressing extreme emotion in front of others but crying in public, with others who also felt sad, was very freeing.

This feeling isn’t over yet and perhaps I’m dissecting it to push it away a bit further. I’m simply glad I had the chance to have such a wonderful teacher, to know such an interesting and kind guy.

He will always be a part of my future accomplishment and paintings. I can’t escape it. I’m glad for it. I wish he had been able to stay with us longer.

I hope in the future that more of his artwork makes it onto the internet so I can share it with you.

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