Thomas Fekete, and social media mourning

I’ve seen Surfer Blood about fifteen times. That’s not an exaggeration. About a dozen of those times were between 2011 and 2014, before guitarist Thomas Fekete’s cancer diagnosis forced him to drop out. I’m feeling a lot of feelings about his death — including hesitance to mourn on the internet — but mostly, I’m glad that I never let self-consciousness stop me from going to their shows, stop me from enjoying their performances, while Thomas was alive.

On one of the last tours I saw him on, I went to see the band at The Saint on a last-minute impulse, even though I had a ticket to see them in Brooklyn two days later. At the Brooklyn show, at the merch table, Thom said, “Hey, weren’t you at the Asbury show the other night?” I was mortified that he recognized me (though we’d met before, and I had been up front taking pictures, so I shouldn’t have been surprised), but when I said yes, he grinned and said, “Thank you so much for coming again!” so sincerely, that I immediately felt better. We chatted a bit, and it was a nice thing. The show was great, like all Surfer Blood shows are, and flooded me with joy. I am grateful to the whole band for all the wonderful experiences I’ve had watching them, dancing to them, singing at the top of my lungs to them. Thom, though, was magnetic. Incandescent. And man, he could do amazing things with a guitar.

His social media engagement was eclectic and erratic and strange; he frequently shut down one account and started another, or changed his username, but he mostly kept the same Instagram account for the past year, and we followed each other. His occasional random comments and likes always made me smile, but the real privilege was getting to follow his post-Surfer Blood journey. Of course a social media feed isn’t a completely picture of someone’s life, but his was inspirational: always optimistic, always observing beauty, always radiating good vibes, and always, always professing deep love and respect for his wife Jessica, who is an inspiration as well.

Social media is funny, and it gives you an odd sort of relationship with people you perhaps don’t know well and a space to share of yourself with the world. The high profile deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Prince this year have made me think more about what is appropriate in terms of social media grieving, but I haven’t come to any kind of conclusion. What right do I have to publicly mourn this human that I met a couple times briefly, had a couple mutual acquaintances with, and followed back on social media? Is it okay for me to share in a public forum that this person inspired me, that he changed me? His death is not about me, and I shouldn’t use it as a reason to talk about me, right? And yet, here I am. Here we all are, pouring out memory after memory of the wonderful ways in which this kind soul changed us, and I think it’s okay to do that, because his death is not okay.

I did mail a get-well card last fall and a letter last week that that said some of these things to Thomas himself, which I hope he got to read, because we don’t say them enough. This is something I’ve believed for a long time: our time with people is limited, so we do what we can with them with the time that we have, and when they’ve changed our lives for the better, they deserve to know that. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or fancy — this certainly isn’t — it just has to be sincere. “I love you,” “you’re beautiful,” “thank you” — these aren’t hard things to say, so we should say them while we can, and not just when a person is gone, not just when we grieve.

Still, though. Thank you, Thomas. You’re beautiful.

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