When you’re grieving, it can be difficult enough to find a way to let yourself feel the emotions, to tap into them so that you can release them safely without hurting yourself or others. An added complication for people who have lost somebody they only knew online can be the lack of a place to visit where they can pay their respects to that person, because they may be buried in a different part of the country, or an entirely different country.
It’s vital to remember that just because your friend may be buried in a different country, or on a different continent, it doesn’t mean that you have to have the means to go there and pay your respects. You can do just that in different ways, beginning in the corner of a garden, or the corner of a room…depending on how green-fingered or arty you actually want to become.
I have a corner of my bedroom set up as an altar, where I have placed a picture of the Indian spiritual master Paramhansa Yogananda together with a picture of Chris, and a few things which remind me of what we shared, particularly in terms of the spiritual path she taught me to walk. (I know that I don’t really walk one so to speak any more, but it’s still a great comfort to me that the space maintains its role, for the day when I can once again acknowledge the spiritual.)
I make a point of spending some time every day looking at the picture of Chris I’ve placed there, so that I can remind myself of the eternal element…she might not be here physically any longer, but she’s still out there somewhere.
My main catharsis and way of remembering is through music and writing. I keep a separate journal within which I record my thoughts and how I’m feeling about the experience of having known and lost people I’ve known online. By doing that, I can quickly switch from prose to poetry, if I’m so moved by something I have written. (Entries in my private grief journal have inspired quite a few of the poems I have posted here, where the ramblings of the journal couldn’t be made quite coherent enough to warrant a blog post.) I keep the two separate in order that the good days can be recorded and stand in a permanent form, where the bad days can be forgotten.
It’s also possible to dedicate a small area of any garden that you may have for the people you have lost - by planting something in memory of them, perhaps. (After Chris passed away, I went to a local garden centre and bought a small Japanese maple…each year I take pride in watching the leaves change colour, and remembering what that tree means to me. I purposely bought one which was smaller than the rest so that I could watch it flourish and see it symbolise my re-emergence from my grief.)
Continuing with the Japanese theme, I must now mention origami. This was a revelation to me, because I injured my thumb last year and couldn’t play guitar for a few weeks. During that time, I taught myself some basic origami folds, and began to make little moving models of animals. After a while, it became more serious and I branched out into the classic Japanese paper cranes. These little models can be very cathartic to make, once you get the hang of it – try making one using the video at the link I’ve provided. Once I learned how to make them, I started to make them quite often, so that each time I make one I can dedicate it to the person who is most on my mind at that moment. It was a few months after I’d begun to make the cranes that I came across a web page which revealed their nature as memorial objects. (In Japan, people make them and leave them by the graves of their loved ones, as well as the better-known idea of the 1000 cranes leading to mastery of the art of origami, or a wish being granted.)
There are many ways which we can use to memorialize online friends, without having to go to any major cost and meanwhile giving them the respect that they deserve. As people who have lost those we’ve known online, we have no ceremonies, rites or rituals to honour them, so it is up to us to create them. I sincerely hope that I have gone some way towards helping you find a way to memorialize the person or people who had enough of an influence on you to be called a friend, even though you may never have set eyes on them in the street.
Wishing you peace as you find a way to remember the people you have known and lost online during the festive season.