A quick scroll down the page of the new Madison County High School Memorial Page on the popular social networking site Facebook shows picture after picture of young, beautiful, hopeful faces, their lives ahead of them when these pictures were taken.
They all have one thing in common, besides being former Madison County students, and that is that they have all passed away.
And it is the shared memories of these folks and others that have brought together at least 800 former students, teachers and employees of the Madison County school district who have become group members in the little more than a month that the page has existed.
Many of those commenting have expressed their feelings of being overwhelmed and heartbroken by the faces and the memories that each picture, each comment can bring to mind. Some are shocked and surprised that a former friend and classmate with whom they had lost touch and with whom they shared their youth, is no longer among the living.
But no one is more surprised by the way the page has grown in popularity than its creator, Emily Brown Wilkinson, herself a 1980 graduate of Madison County High School.
“It really has just gone ballistic,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
Wilkinson, who is the younger sister of former funeral director Arnold Brown, said she felt the site would be meaningful — she just didn’t know how much.
“I don’t mean to be morbid, but I’ve been around death all my life and I know what it means to people to hear stories, even funny ones, of their loved ones and to know that they meant something to someone else.”
Wilkinson said she got the idea from a similar site for Franklin County students that she saw while on Facebook one night.
“My husband is from Franklin County,” she explained. “So I was looking at their site and I thought ‘what a great idea.’”
She remembered the page just the following week, when she suffered a mini-stroke and was home recuperating.
“Having a health scare like that reminded me of my own mortality and also made me think how I’d like to be remembered,” she said. “So I thought, why not give myself and others a place to connect, share our grief and comfort each other over shared memories?…. I just feel like it was laid on my heart to do this.”
That was March 11.
By the end of March, Wilkinson had to seek out the help of friends to manage the page, which was taking off at such a rate that she couldn’t get members approved fast enough.
“I wanted someone from several age groups to be involved so that we could all have input,” she said.
Her friend Wanda Ashworth Keese and her daughter, Paige Keese Findley came on board as administrators and were joined by Amanda Graham Brown, all Madison County graduates.
Between the four of them, they try to update the page as often as possible, adding new members every day.
“It has really touched me to see the compassion expressed between members,” Wilkinson said. “I hope most of all that it is bringing comfort to those who see their loved ones names and pictures posted, along with comments about them.”
Wilkinson said besides seeing just how many people have been listed, many of them quite young, it is startling to realize that among many different causes of death, two are most prevalent.
“Car wrecks and cancer,” she said. “The numbers are shocking.”
Wilkinson encourages those who list someone who has passed to include a picture of the person whenever possible.
“It just helps to see a picture,” she said, adding that negative comments about anyone will not be tolerated.
Besides sharing memories and information about those that have passed on, several have also thanked her and her fellow administrators for the page’s creation. Wilkinson said one comment, posted by Laddy Fleming, brought her to tears.
“I sat down and read that and I just cried,” she said. “It means a lot to me to see what it has meant to others.”
Fleming’s comments, in part, were as follows:
“They (people) have basically shifted their primary source of communication (to Facebook), making them too busy for a phone call or visit. Your eyes and voice can impart a tone of caring that does not come across in the typed word. And likewise, while some may have thousands of Facebook friends, in the end we are really only left with a chosen few who know us and accept who we are and what we have become. However, for all its ‘hoopla,’ Facebook from time to time has its positive influence like connecting you with old friends and documenting extraordinary moments in our lives like births, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. Sometimes it even helps people feel connected, I suppose. But this particular (group) has a little deeper connection to us as we remember fallen classmates and fond memories of youthful summers spent with friends who we will not see again in this life. It reminds us of our own mortality and wasted chances. I pray for God’s comfort on each family’s loss and thanks for giving them a place to keep their memories alive.”
Fleming lost his own brother, Kenneth Fleming, a class of 1963 graduate, in 2002.
Another similar post from Chandler Ray, who lost his brother Stoy (Class of 1984), said in part: “After posting about my brother Stoy, I just sat back and looked at all of those people that have passed on and thought ‘why am I still here?’ These folks are younger than me and some older. After all I have gone through myself and I’m still here? I am sorry for all the losses that you all have had in the past years. I had no idea how many people that I knew and had come into my life have passed, I really don’t know what else to say, just know that they have moved on to a better place that God had ready for them.”
And former students are not the only ones who’ve found the page and are sharing their own memories and losses. Wilkinson said she has reconnected with one of her own beloved high school teachers, Peggy Thompson, through shared posts about Thompson’s late husband, Louie, who was also an MCHS teacher.
Many others have also listed teachers and other school employees among those who have passed.
Michael Fowler, a former longtime math teacher at the high school, joined the group and had this to say: “My heart is saddened as I look through this long list of former students. I remember most of them. Good kids then and as adults I got to know them even better and they became good friends. They will always be in my memory.”
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