Grieving an Online Friend
In our age of social media, online relationships, and virtual chats, it is possible to make personal connections with people from all over the world. You can make friends, meet potential mates, and find support groups all with the click of a button. Although many people consider these types of relationships to be less “real” than those forged in person, the truth is that the people we interact with online can be just as important to us as those we see every day.
In the funeral industry, this translates into a new kind of grief and bereavement that has yet to be explored on a major level. There are books and pamphlets and counselors available to help you move through the loss of a loved one or dear friend in real life. Attending a funeral can start the process of grieving and provide you with closure. However, if you lose someone you knew only in the cyber world, you may find yourself without resources—and without the support of people in your life, who may not understand how deeply the loss affects you.
Ways to Grieve Online
The good news is that if you spend a lot of time online, you are probably already aware of the technologies and websites that exist to help support your grief. For example:
- Facebook allows pages of deceased users to be turned into memorial pages where you can interact with other online friends to share your loss. Although Twitter does not offer the same kind of focused bereavement, you can also use these types of social media sites to share your loss.
- Funeral homes and funeral webcasting services sometimes air funerals in real time or put the footage on YouTube for public viewing. This allows you to “attend” a funeral even if you can’t be there in person.
- Funeral homes also have interactive guest books that you can sign to show your love and care for the deceased. You can also often send funeral flowers or show other more traditional forms of support this way.
- Forums often provide a good platform for shared grief. If the deceased belonged to a particular group or hung out at a particular forum, you can start a thread to talk about your loss.
- A memorial website is a way to hold an online vigil. These can be fairly inexpensive to set up (especially if you use a free blogging platform), and you can choose to either keep it up indefinitely or take it down after a few months have passed.
- Online bereavement groups are less personal than one-on-one interactions with those who knew the deceased (either online or in person), but these do exist for almost all types of deaths and relationships. They also provide a safe space to talk about your loss in your own way.
Online Privacy Issues
The biggest problem with online grief is that it often takes place in a public place, which leaves you open to harassment from trolls, commenters who only want to advertise their services, and other people who might wish to take advantage of your grief.
If you would like to keep your bereavement private, you may need to create a closed thread, a memorial website that is open by invitation only, or have a moderator who can keep a close eye on things.
It is also a good idea to make sure you have the family’s blessing before you post anything online about the deceased—especially when it comes to private details. Invite them to participate and become involved in your online grief activities, and share the memories that are most important to you. You might be surprised at how willing people are to open up even if you never met in person before.
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