Communication, loss and the death of Neha Suri

Technology has the power to make you feel connected and disconnected all at once.

En route to teach a seminar in Florida this weekend, I received a kind message from one of my former students that another J-School major, Neha Suri, was ill. The warmth and support in the posts I read on Facebook and CaringBridge reflected the depth of the girl I knew from class. Everyone prayed and hoped for her recovery because it was too soon to lose her kindness and spark.

I felt the sense of community surrounding Neha, her family and friends in a time of worry. Sitting before a computer, I felt connected to students a little over a thousand miles away.

When we learned of Neha’s death, that distance seemed to stretch to a million miles.

No communication pipeline, despite its power, can substitute for being with these kids and saying how sorry I am that sadness has hit them this young and how unfair it is to lose a friend so quickly, without a chance to say goodbye or thank you. As media contacts began to stream it, I wanted to be with them to say this was their moment to speak or not speak, to remember their friend to the public or grieve her loss in private.

As students and family gather at a memorial service this afternoon, I cannot stand with them. I can sign online guestbooks, add comments to stories or post memories to digital walls.

But those 21st century options are pale substitutes for standing with a mother and saying, “I knew your daughter. And it was indeed my honor.”

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