When you learn your housemate died via social media

22 April 2024

Mohamed Aboelez recently learned his roommate, a person he shared a residence with, had died. But no one called to say so, instead Aboelez read the news on Facebook:

I froze. I hadn’t seen Paul in about two days. I had assumed he’d been with his friend. But not dead. Of course not dead.

What a terrible thing to happen, and what an awful way to find out: through social media.

If I found out today, via social media, that someone I lived with, in the same apartment/house had died, something would be seriously wrong. People would be asking, quite rightly, what planet I thought I was living on.

But dial back to my days of share house living, and that may not be quite so bizarre. I resided in a number of share houses, and it was not unusual for housemates to be absent for several days at a time. Nor was it unusual — in the normal course — for anyone to say they’d be away either.

It wasn’t that anyone was being aloof or evasive, because often their absences were not — initially at least — intentional. Someone would leave the house in the morning, likely planning to return later that day, but end up getting, perhaps, side tracked. And remain that way for a day. Or three.

Back then, I think someone would need to go unseen for a good week, or their share of the rent had gone unpaid, before concerns were raised. But there was also the point that determining a period of an absence could be tricky. Let me illustrate. Flatmate A is away for two days. I (unknowingly) end up being away for three days afterwards, but leave before Flatmate A comes back in. When I return three days later, Flatmate A has been in the house for a few days, but again gone walkabout for a few days, by the time I arrive back. And so on.

Twenty-somethings, hey?

Unless Flatmate A left all the dishes unwashed, or some such, I might have no idea they’d been back. Equally, I’d have no way of knowing that they hadn’t. Confusing, much? To make matters (sort of) worse, we often didn’t have each other’s mobile numbers, or emails, because, you know, there was no need: we lived in the same house. We could obviously communicate face-to-face.

In these sorts of circumstances then, it may not be entirely strange to learn that a housemate had met with misfortune, on a social media channel. In my case though, all, thankfully, turned out to be well. My flatmates were absent precisely because they wanted to be. Sadly, this was not the case for Aboelez’s roommate.