I’ve been hesitant to write about Jennifer Perillo’s loss, just one week ago, of her husband Mike. I don’t want to intrude on her grief. Or pretend that we are closer than we are. Or seem like I’m using her very personal tragedy as blog fodder.
Plus, so many others – like Marinka, at Motherhood in NYC, and Nicole at Momtrends – other New York based bloggers who know and love Jennie – have already written beautiful posts. Food bloggers from around the country – some who never even met Jennie or her family, have been moved to write their own tributes, and to bake the Peanut Butter Pie that was Mike’s favorite, and that Jennie asked everyone to bake, and give to someone they love today…for who knows what tomorrow will bring.
But I still feel compelled to write because I do know Jennie. And I’ve met her adorable little girls. And, in a strange, small-world coincidence that I didn’t even realize until Mike was already gone – I knew Mike, too. I worked with him for years. We spent countless hours together in windowless rooms making promos for Lifetime television (Mike was an editor, I was a writer/producer) and Nickelodeon, and who knows how many other clients. I remember Mike as talented, funny, whip smart, quick, full of energy and life – and very crush worthy.
It’s no wonder so many are crushed by his sudden, way-too-young loss.
How did I not realize that I knew Jennie’s husband? I don’t know. I think that in this blogging world, we know each other in such an unusual way. We feel connected through shared words and passions, thoughts, and tweets. But our relationships often exist only in the virtual space. We only know each other – not our families. Until Mike died, I knew neither the name or occupation of Jennie’s husband. Had I know them, I surely would have re-connected with Mike – some 15 years after we last suffered through coming up with a way to make yet another Woman In Peril movie starring Lyndsey Wagner or Meredith Baxter Birney seem new and fresh.
We surely would have joked that after years of editor food: we used to get decent Greek ordered in from a local Astoria diner, or lousy Chinese ordered from a store front where the only difference between General Tsao’s Chicken and Sesame Chicken was the sprinkling of – you guessed it – sesame seeds – added just before they sealed the styrofoam take-out container — How after all that, he ended up married to a health-conscious foodie and professional chef who only uses bottled organic milk, produce from the farmers market, and cloth napkins. No styrofoam in sight.
But I didn’t realize in time who he was.
Some might say that having known Jennie online for years, and in person for one, the fact that I never made the connection proves that online friendships aren’t real. That they are superficial. But I see it in a completely different light: I think it shows, despite what we don’t know about each other - just how connected we all really are.
On Tuesday, only two days after Mike died, a few of us – blogging friends – went over to Jennie’s not to grieve, but to make her laugh. She did laugh. And smile, and joke, and cried a little. She was amazing, and strong, and thinking about cooking, and recipes and her girls. When, at around 6pm, Mike’s work friends turned up — and turned out to be my old work friends, too, when, finally, I made the connection, and the light bulb went off in my head – Jennie turned to me and said “So you’re being here was meant to be.”
Yes, it was. But not only because I knew Mike all those years ago. It was meant to be because online communities are real. Virtual friendships are true and lasting. The connections we make with one another – whether through Twitter, or simply reading each other’s blogs – they run fast and deep.
At the memorial service on Friday, one of Mike’s long-time friends, when I told him I knew Jennie through blogging, said “Oh wow! The bloggers showed up!” Of course we did. The online community came out it force for Jennie. After a loss that was virtually incomprehensible, the virtual world with whom Jennie so graciously, generously, shares her recipes, spirit, and love – loved her back.
Can Twitter and blogging be superficial? Sure. But they can also make people feel close enough to someone they never even met in real life to bake her Peanut Butter pie. They can also make friendships true enough that Jennie called on her blogging friends in her time of need — and we came. And they can also bring back memories of greasy Chinese food shared with a funny, charming person who just happened to be married to someone you met online. And then let someone who doesn’t know what to say – how to comfort - share those memories with his young widow and his young girls, to help them laugh about the man they loved.
Lots of us have relationships that began in the virtual world. But they are as real as any others. And for Jennie, I hope, they’ve been a blessing.
- peanut butter pie, gluten-free (glutenfreegirl.com)