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When Mel died, her Facebook became a valuable memorial

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: February 02, 2014

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Social networking sites such as Facebook have both good and bad sides. They can be a platform to promote wonderful causes but in the next breath be used to pour scorn on others.

However, in a story he has never before told, Branston man Ian Leech talked to ROB SMYTH about how the site helped him learn more about his daughter Mel, who sadly lost her life after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008.

I remember joining Facebook. My daughter Melissa was constantly talking about it! It seemed her whole life was played out on there.

It was 2006 and she was studying at university. Facebook was relatively new, but it was catching on in a big way. It was considered the communication tool for young people. If it happened, it was reported on Facebook either as a status or a private message.

Although in my forties, I liked the idea, I’d been a member of Friends Reunited, but this was different, far more interactive and I had a feeling it would only grow in popularity. I set up my own account and set about adding friends.

When it came to adding Melissa I was told quite categorically ‘I’ll add you as a friend, but don’t, go writing on my timeline’.

I replied ‘ok! I won’t’ to which Mel reiterated ‘I said , don’t write on my timeline’.

I loved reading of her antics at university and seeing her photographs from nights out in Birmingham! When she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2007, this platform became a great way of communicating her illness to her friends.

It kept them in touch and along with our respective blogs it gave people an understanding of how she was feeling on a day to day, sometimes hour to hour, basis.

When Melissa’s aunty decided to undertake some fundraising, Mel took to Facebook and promoted what her aunt was up to.

Facebook was also a godsend while she was in hospital as the cancer related drugs kept her awake, she would be up in the early hours tapping away, talking to people she had befriended with similar issues, keeping tabs on her friends and letting people know how she was feeling.

Her final post on Facebook was on May 6. It read: Mel Leech . . Is having a rough coupla days and visitors are restricted at the min … Its not personal … I just need to recover and sort my meds out.”

Mel died five days later.

After phoning family and friends, including those Mel wanted me to contact personally, I took to Facebook to announce that Melissa had died.

Messages flooded in, of support, of sympathy, of memories! Within a couple of days, Aston University announced they would be providing transport to Mel’s funeral and during the week before her funeral we communicated to Aston Uni and school friends using the social media that she loved so much.

In the weeks that followed Mel’s death, a decision had to be made. What do we do about her Facebook account?

Spam messages had begun to fill her pages and suddenly this place of memories was being overtaken. We discussed what we should do and discovered we had three choices.

First was to close Mel’s Facebook account. Second was to leave it open and third was to memorialise the account.

Option one was a possibility but we realised that in doing that we would be destroying many precious memories. Like I said, Mel lived her life on there and closing her account meant losing conversations and photographs.

Option two wasn’t really an option. We had already discovered that leaving it open lay it prey to spam messages and the possibility of trolls and of the three options this was bottom of our list. If we’d known Mel’s passwords, maybe we could have kept it open and monitored it ourselves, but emotionally, I think that would have been hard.

Option three was the one we decided on. We contacted Facebook and we had Mel’s account memorialised. This meant that friends could still leave messages, but only friends. Everything else would remain unchanged!

Memorialising an account isn’t without its problems, for instance, my mother, who in her mid seventies and has decided to become Facebook savvy, can’t access Mel’s account without emailing Facebook providing loads of ID.

I spoke to Facebook about this and they weren’t that helpful and their attitude somewhat put us off.

There are people who we have met since Mel died who I would love to see her pages and it’s a shame that with a memorialisation of an account you can’t have some modicum of control.

From an emotional point of view, Facebook can sometimes be difficult, such as the hundreds of messages that appeared when Mel died were followed in equal numbers on her 21st birthday in the August.

However, people do move on and on the anniversary of her death last year only a couple of messages were left, the same on her birthday. It can be hard to take. Are people forgetting? Caring less? I don’t think so, I think they do just move on.

I occasionally post my thoughts and feelings, I’m careful not to do it too often, if I do, I feel I may bore people, but sometimes I just want to shout out! I’ve lost a few Facebook friends since Mel died, but not many. To be honest, I’ve probably lost more friends outside of Facebook than within it and if I do need to share how I’m feeling, there are groups for people in a similar situation.

So, in summary, my message is, that if you do find yourself in the same position as we were, don’t rush into any decisions. Do what is best for you and your family.

Sometimes, I go onto to Mel’s Facebook page and read some of her postings. They make me smile. They sometimes make me cry. I stare at the screen and remember the words of her consultant back in April 2008 . . . Life isn’t fair.

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