Grief and the Online Community
Death is never easy and an untimely death can be devastating. There is the adage that everyone grieves and heals differently and at different speeds. Some remain numb for years, others give a good cry and carry on. Some fall between the two and fight to grieve the “right way”. Well, there is no right or wrong way to process a death. We all are unique individuals. Our own lives and memories color each and every moment of our day and no matter how we look at it, every single experience is uniquely ours, including grieving,
We are alive at an amazing time in the human story, confusing when death enters the picture, but amazing nonetheless. Through social media we are connecting with people beyond our city limits, state lines, and national borders. We are growing ever closer to these “virtual” strangers and many of us count them as our closest friends. We have connected with fellow tribe members worldwide and met friends who really get and understand us like our local friends and family members can’t. We have built and cultivated relationships, invested time and emotions with likes, messages, comments, and connections that are as real as the face to face conversations we have daily.
This is the exciting portion of the human story that we exist in, and it is glorious. Glorious and extremely confusing when death enters our online world. We are conditioned from a young age to react to death a certain way. It varies from person to person but typically it consists of levels of grief. These levels are usually tied in with the strength and closeness of our relationships to the deceased. The closer the relationship, the deeper the grief should be. That is just how it is. You “should” grieve more for your parents than an aunt or more for your spouse than a friend. We are taught that is about the closeness of the relationship, usually in familial terms, that defines our grief level.
This line of grief thinking can cause some massive upheaval in our grieving processes when we lose a member of our online community and tribe. In an established local community, the grieving process tends to wind down after a funeral and continue privately for everyone. When the deceased is part of an online tribe, there are multiple posts, comments, and memories that keep the person alive in the community for weeks and months, even years as anniversaries pass. You can also have a tribe member who hasn’t logged on in a day, week or more and tags the person to ask a question or finally gets a chance to respond only to learn the truth of what happened. This can cause another wave of grief to roll through the community and reopen wounds that had started to mend.
The waves of grief are not a new or novel concept and anyone who has lost someone can tell you the oddest things can send them back down the road. Sometimes it could be a song, a smell, or one of a million things, but it eventually happens. These feelings make us uniquely human. The ability to feel and experience emotional pain reminds us we are still alive and connected. These feelings can also make us feel extremely guilty. It seems silly that being sad or upset over a friend’s death should make anyone feel guilty, but it does.
Many people trivialize these online relationships as not real or not as important as “real life” ones so we, as members of these tribes, feel the need to hide our grief. I am here to tell you to STOP! These people that we have chosen to let into our lives through social media and online communities matter to us, and that is ALL that matters. It doesn’t matter if we met them in person or have never spent a moment in their actual, physical company, when we as a human being choose to connect with another human being, it is marvelous. Connecting on so many levels makes us feel whole. A complete and full life is what everyone is working toward. We want to feel like we belong and that someone has our back. We like it, in fact, we crave it. Online communities and our tribes allow us to achieve this feeling with others who are searching for the same thing. These communities are real because they let us connect and live.
So, feel what you feel. Don’t hide your grief if your online community has lost someone. Don’t lessen the value or the impact they may have had on you or the community as a whole. Some of us spend more time online with our tribe than we do with our own immediate families. These relationships are important and to deny the loss of them is disingenuous to yourself and your community. If your tribe loses someone, grieve, feel sad, and remember them with your online family. If it becomes too much, disconnect for a few days and return when you feel better. No one can put a time limit on grief in any situation and the loss of an online friend is a new kind of loss for many of us, but it is, nonetheless a loss.
I’m actually sitting here writing this right now sniffling back tears while enjoying a Bourbon and Pepsi and watching my favorite Idris Elba movie. I am mourning the loss of our Mama Bear in our Flourish community the best way I can, with words. We have an amazing tribe, and even though we have some rough weeks ahead of us, I know we will pull through, she would accept nothing less. So, be there for each other and if you need to talk, do not hesitate to reach out.