“The friends I have never met.
My Friends online.
It’s strange to have a friend that you have never hugged, shook their hand or looked into their eyes.
But you have been touched by their soul, seen the good in their heart and felt the warmth in their being.
The friends I have never met are not my friends untouched for I have felt them with me when I needed them. I have confided in them and they are some of the kindest people I have ever known.
My Friends, never forget how special you are to me.”
Pain doesn’t discriminate. It is possible to grieve the loss of someone you’ve never met as though they were a best friend you’ve known for years. There have been beautiful, enduring relationships forged over miles with the advent of the internet, social media, and online gaming. It can be unexplainable how certain personalities just click even though two people may be from different countries, different cultures, different religions, or different ethnic groups. This is one of the profound benefits of the internet–the ability to bring different people together who otherwise may never have connected.
Losing a Virtual Friend Is Still Just as Devastating
Like any relationship, the sudden or even not so sudden loss of a virtual friend is devastating. There are people who connect every day with online friends. They’ve invested deeply in the friendship, they’ve shared personal details of their life, and they’ve depended on their friend’s support. How does one explain the depth of his or her grief to family and friends outside the online world?
In his 1985 book, Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow, Kenneth Doka explained that disenfranchised grief goes unacknowledged and unsupported because others do not recognize the loss. As a result, people who are experiencing the loss of an online friend may feel extremely isolated and alone as they lack the support of a bereavement community. Moreover, they miss out on the rituals that help us accept death and begin the healing process.
6 Ways to Acknowledge Your Grief
If you are experiencing a cyber loss, it’s important to acknowledge your grief:
1. Talk About It
There will be those who don’t understand your loss, but there will be others who do. There is no reason to suffer through your loss in solitude. Seek out friends who have the capability to offer the same support to you that they would have if your deceased friend lived two streets away. When others acknowledge that this relationship was significant; that it was as real as our own “in-person” friendships; and that the loss feels just as painful, our grief is validated and we feel less alone in our suffering. This may even require that you turn to an online community to access the support you need.
2. Share Your Admiration
Teach people about the individual you lost. Explain why they were important to you, how they supported you, their character traits, hopes and dreams. Share how you first connected and what drew you to each other. Maybe they were a fellow gamer who made you laugh every time you played. When you tell others about the friend you lost, you keep their presence alive by paying tribute to them.
3. Offer Your Condolences
If possible, reach out to your friend’s family, and let them know their loved one made a positive impact on your life. Send a note or flowers or leave a short post that acknowledges their loss. These small acts can help make your loss more tangible while providing comfort to the family. What a wonderful gift to a grieving family to know that their loved one made a difference in other people’s lives both near and far.
Suggested Read: Is It Ok To Say I Am Sorry For Your Loss?
4. Create Your Own Ritual
You may not be able to attend the funeral, but you can create your own, private ritual to recognize your friend’s death and honor their memory. Choose an activity that resonates with you; for example, it could mean lighting a candle, offering a prayer, or writing your own eulogy. Completing a ritual will help make your friend’s death more concrete so that you can begin to heal.
More like This: Saying Goodbye: 9 Ways to Honor Your Loved One Without a Funeral
5. Give Yourself Time
Grieving is a process without a timetable. Regardless of how others view your cyber loss, it is important to exercise self-compassion.
It’s okay not to be okay.
Take a day or more off of work, get some extra rest, and allow yourself to be sad. Any loss of a significant relationship is traumatic, so refuse to let others define the parameters of your loss.
Suggested Read: It’s Ok To Not Be Ok
6. Seek Help If Needed
Finally, if you are feeling symptoms of depression, seek outside help. Do not try to navigate the loss on your own; instead, give yourself the gift of finding a supportive community.
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