The Facebook post began with a happy tone. At 6:30 a.m., I needed a dose of chipper to start my day.
"To all our dear, dear friends..."
The entry was from a California woman I had friended after a single business-related encounter in 2009, when Facebook was in its infancy and it was considered the norm to accept every friend request, even if that "friend" was logging in from a jailhouse computer. I haven't seen her since then, and the reference to "our" was my first indicator that she had a spouse, a roommate or a life partner. Also, her posts rarely appeared on my wall so I was hardly up to speed on her life's occurrences these past seven years. Still, I assumed she was sharing good news, as evidenced by her desire to call me a "dear friend." Perhaps a birthday? An anniversary? Photos of a vacation home that she had just purchased and was eagerly opening to anyone passing through the neighborhood?
The post continued. "We would like to thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts, for your endless kindness, warmest thoughts, sweet messages of concern and the lovely heartfelt words of comfort during this most difficult time now."
The shift in tone overwhelmed me with guilt pangs. What had I missed? Had I been so busy selfishly posting my own personal updates, travel photos and random thoughts about Donald Trump that I had ignored her when she needed me most? Was a divorce looming? Had their vacation home fallen victim to a mudslide, brush fire or other disaster that accompanies putting down roots in California?
The next sentence made my pulse quicken: "Especially during these last, gut-wrenchingly tough, 24 hours."
I was feeling more and more negligent, knowing a friend (OK, a virtual one) had a wrench in her abdominal area -- for an entire day no less -- and I had done nothing. I read on.
"We feel blanketed in the warmth of your generous spirit and all-knowing wisdom. You have so delicately, gently and poetically eased our pain, and we cannot begin to fully express what it means to us that you all so completely recognize, understand and sympathize with what we are going through."
By now it was obvious these two were coping with a recent death. But of who? A grandmother? Parent? Dear God, I silently prayed, not a child for nobody should have to endure that unimaginable suffering alone. A lump was forming in my throat as I read the final sentence:
"We know -- and absolutely feel! -- this beautiful showering of love is genuine and we truly appreciate the wonderful support for our darling little fur baby, Lucy, and for us mere humans."
Excuse me. FUR baby?
And then it hit me: I had worked myself up over a cat.
Dear comment trolls, before you quickly send angry responses beginning with, "Obviously YOU'VE never lost a pet," or some form thereof, let me state that you are incorrect. Two goldfish are buried in my backyard, beneath the shade of a large pine tree, and the ashes of our Yorkshire terrier reside in the kitchen cupboard next to the coffee container. It's not the most intelligent location, as I often have to remind guests rummaging for coffee that "Starbucks is on the right, Barnaby's on the left." Yet it seems an appropriate resting place considering Barnaby's casket is a brightly-colored decorative tin, compliments of the veterinarian who gently put the dog to sleep.
My wife and I dried our kids' tears and encouraged them to write down their thoughts when a pet passed. What we never did was send out cryptically worded death notices via social media, forcing our Facebook friends to read four paragraphs before realizing the dearly departed had four legs, not two.
Which is why I'm asking Facebook software engineers to consider a new feature, one far more useful than the "haha" reaction emoji they recently created.
Place them under the "Friends' Birthdays" icon. Create a combination sad face/cat emoji and include daily updates: "Three friends lost pets today. Click here to comfort them." Anything to keep Facebook users like my California friend from, in journalism speak, "burying the lead sentence."
Rest in peace, Lucy. But, if you truly have nine lives, consider coming back and discontinuing your owners' Facebook account.