A Girl I Used to Model With Died Last Week

Social media is making it really hard to mourn her death.
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Jenny Bahn
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Social media is making it really hard to mourn her death.

It was 9 p.m. and she was riding her bike when she was hit. They asked if she was wearing a helmet, as though a thin shell of plastic and some polystyrene foam would have really created a substantial enough barrier between her and a New York City bus. 

Newspapers described her in reports as “a Swedish model,” which seemed about the most irrelevant, frivolous piece of information considering the circumstances. As if when you’re lying in a hospital bed on the Upper East Side, connected to life support, it really mattered that you walked on some runways, had some pictures taken of yourself that were nice to look at, that you sold clothes for companies. “Brain dead model” versus “brain dead girl” -- as though one is meant to elicit more or less sympathy than the other.

What mattered was that she was a person, and that, a few days after being struck and falling into a coma, she died.

AnnaMaria Mostrum and I met when we were both modeling in Los Angeles, though the job is not important beyond providing context. We traveled together often, sitting in airports waiting for 6 a.m. flights, talking about her family and my family and the floral arrangements she had started doing for people on the side, semi-professionally. 

For the holidays, people paid her to wrap their gifts. She was obsessive and meticulous, good at packaging things, making life more beautiful. I told her she could be the next Martha Stewart -- a suggestion made in a Facebook message that has already outlived her. Social media is the perverse, modern-day graveyard, where people live and die within a singular URL link.

And that was where I learned that she was struggling for her life.

Overnight, her Facebook page flooded with messages from friends and relatives saying prayers for her in public forums, while the details about what had happened to her remained vague. In fact, unbeknownst to many of us and the result of a faulty game of telephone, she was still on life support when people were already posting premature RIPs, accompanied by stock photos of flowers, images of burning candles, lots of use of the word “angel.”

I am not accustomed to death in this age, or what the protocol is to handle someone’s passing. It feels so cheap and easy and thin to pray for someone on a message board for all to see. But if I don’t say anything to people assume I don’t care? If I do say something, do people think I’m being self-serving by trying to prove my importance by way of visible closeness? Even when well intentioned, the whole thing just feels like jockeying for rank: Who knew the dead girl better?

In social media, we’re provided a platform with which to share our condolences, insomuch as we are provided a platform to post cat GIFs, political diatribes, “21 Reasons Your Boyfriend Won’t Sleep with You” articles. It is the digital dump for everything that ever pops into our head. Be it public or private, the words and the well wishing were doomed to never benefit AnnaMaria personally. 

The direct message I sent to her on October 10, right after the accident, remains a useless and unanswered blue box, the word “seen” having never popped up. But, I suppose as with her public page, it is evidence that we tried, that we cared, and that -- if by some miracle she were actually to have made it -- she would have known.

Now we’re left with the evidence of our concern, and the evidence of her life, permanently held on a server somewhere.

For so many reasons, I’m struggling with how to mourn a person who continues to live on in this strange, modern capacity. She’s there, on Instagram -- an untouched time capsule of what recently was. 

“Model and entrepreneur with a creative mind. A strong stubborn fighter with compassion and care for people around me,” it reads, and I keep wanting someone to come in and insert the word “was,” if for no other reason to close the book, end a chapter with dignity. “This story is over,” it says. Instead, you move through week-old posts of images annotated with her words. Its stubborn existence feels unnatural.

All of it does.

It seems so strange to shower a Facebook wall like a digital tombstone. Shed a tear, drop and drag. A community billboard with no real pushpins or people. Keep scrolling down and eventually you get to AnnaMaria’s own posts, plans for a life that she wasn’t ultimately in control of continuing. All in further proof of how social media feels more like virtual reality. Life and death both equally ephemeral, but permanent. Here forever, even after you’ve gone.