I want to tell you about a meme I saw the other day.
I’m usually pretty skeptical of memes. For some reason, it seems that under the shadow of the presidential election, memes have been co-opted into a lazy form of political dialogue. I do not claim to understand why Minions, the little yellow cartoon characters, are frequently juxtaposed with strange, conservative ideological statements. Nor do I claim to understand why the “Pepe the Frog” meme became a war-banner for Donald Trump’s alt-right movement. And it’s not just conservatives that use viral images in such a bizarre way. I’m sure anyone from any political background has seen their parents’ friends post unsettlingly strange memes on their Facebook walls.
Usually I just ignore them, because most of the time they’re meaningless or vexing. But I saw a meme the other day that completely and utterly stopped me in my tracks. A girl from my hometown of Dexter, Mich. posted an image that was completely black, save for white text. It read: “i miss my dad so much.”
That was it. No Minions. No Photoshop-derived garnishes. Just that simple, heart-wrenching statement — “i miss my dad so much.”
Suddenly, I wondered how this young lady must have been feeling when she shared the post. What was initially bewilderment at the fact that such a horrific and depressing statement was shared via a meme — a theoretically meaningless, vexing meme — quickly dissolved into empathy. We’ve all lost a family member. This girl just had the misfortune of losing one of her closest, and at a way too young age. And then she posted on Facebook about it. I felt really bad. Maybe she needed someone to talk to.
To my further surprise, this image was by no means the only one of its kind. As I clicked through to the image’s page of origin, simply called “I miss you Dad,” I found dozens and dozens more posts just like it, and thousands and thousands of likes and comments, all about deceased fathers. Every single one.
“Was this time last year Dads chest X-rays came back (sad emoji),” read one comment.
“The beginning of a heartbreaking journey. Wish we had had more time together x.”
“My dad has been in heaven for 3 years now and i miss him very very much,” reads another.
“Its very hard for me this time of year because he was my hunting buddy, and we had a lot of good times. I love you dad and miss you. Thoughts and Prayers to all who lost their dad.”
The page has 484,002 followers.
“We were very close to our dad,” said Rachel, one of the owners of the page. She runs it with her sister, Michelle. “He wasn't just our dad, but our best friend. We could speak to him about absolutely anything.”
Rachel, who declined to give her last name, wrote in a Facebook message conversation with The Michigan Daily that she and Michelle grew up in a little town in Wales. Rachel works as a carer in the UK, and has mostly grown-up children with her spouse.
She said, the sisters were devastated by their father’s early passing from cancer, following a heart attack at the age of 39.
“When dad was diagnosed with cancer, it felt like our world had been blown apart,” Rachel wrote. “My sister and I moved in with him and cared for him throughout his illness, until the end came … We were with him when he passed.”
That’s when Rachel and Michelle turned to Facebook.
“In the months following dad’s death, we searched Facebook for others that had been through the same as we had and took comfort in reading different quotes,” Rachel wrote. “We found we could relate to a lot of the posts and saw that there were others who had lost parents, partners and, heartbreakingly, children. We wanted to make a page for us. A page where my sister and I could post our feelings through quotes and pictures.”
And so they did. What they didn’t expect was their page to get nearly 500,000 followers, and dozens of comments on every post. Along with their administrators, they still post images that go viral almost every day. One recent image was a photo of an autumn-tinged forest, with the caption: “Honestly — I spent today missing you and that is probably how I will spend tomorrow, and the day after that, and all of the days after that, too. #missingyou.” The comments? Stories from people, mostly women, from every background, about their fathers.
A father that died in a car accident. A father that died from cancer. Heart attack. Truck wreck. A baby girl dying at five weeks. A father dying on his son’s birthday. A woman pledging to sleep next to her father’s metal detector.
“The pain will be with me until it’s my turn <3.”
“My dad has been dead for 58 years.”
“I can’t even describe it.”
Though many of the images make references to heaven, “better places” and other places of eternal rest, Rachel told me that she and Michelle are not religious women.
“We respect other religions and are aware other people might be/are religious,” she wrote. “We speak with and help people from all over the world and have met with some unusual traditions and interesting ones too. Religion plays a role on the page for those who find comfort from it.”
One of Rachel and Michelle’s administrators has of late started a small business on the page selling charms. After receiving requests for charms to remember their loved ones by, the admin began selling metal charms to members of the group. According to Rachel, the initiative is a new, but successful, venture.
But it’s not about the money for Rachel and Michelle. For Rachel, the true value of the page lies in the connections she makes with people around the world.
“There are so, so, many (stories and) they are all touching in different ways,” Rachel wrote. “I've had a few that have made me cry. One young man saw his dad killed by a gang … He was very descriptive and his words will haunt me forever. A lady wrote a story about her life with her dad, her life after her dad and then being diagnosed with cancer herself and having to leave her own children behind. It was beautifully heartbreaking.
“People message me because they feel suicidal. Others need support or advice. I have made a few friends on the page. Though we don't talk away from the page, we chat in general and share common interests, etc. The comments and likes on the page? Yes, the comments have helped with my own tragedy. Talking to others and helping others has helped me work through some of my pain. The likes? I guess it's nice to know people like what you do, but I've never been big on likes.
“Actual words of support, I find, are better,” Rachel said.
Rachel and Michelle’s page can be found at @Imissyoudadmemorypage on Facebook.