Disclaimer: This post is based solely on the author’s personal experience, any information provided should be employed at your discretion.
Recently, I posted and invited readers to tell me what they wanted to know about cyberloss. There were questions on the reality of online friendships, and insightful comments which reaffirmed their necessity. Others wrote asking how they could reach out to family members after the loss of an online friend if they did not know the family.
I intend to tackle that with today’s post. My experience was slightly different, as I had the luxury of being involved with a community of people who were responsible for keeping us updated on Chris’ health, and afterwards it was a question of choosing the right moment and choosing the right words.
Considering the nature of the internet, and the anonymity that some users like to preserve, it can be difficult to establish contact with surviving family members. In my view, your best bet is to approach those who have had contact with the person outside of their online life. If you can get access to an email address for somebody who knew them personally, and you feel comfortable, send an email explaining how you knew the person, and that you’d like to contact the family. As long as they’re done in a respectful way, such gestures are often appreciated.
If you intend to reach out and contact surviving family members, it is wise to take stock of your own situation first. Ask yourself whether you want to get back in touch for your own sake, or for theirs. When I reached out to Chris’ family, it was a mixture of the two. I wanted to show them that I cared about her still, and to reassure myself that they were coping. Since I first contacted them in 2008, I have thought about writing again, but the fact that life goes on tells me that I shouldn’t.
I was able to contact one of Chris’ friends and through him I ended up writing to her family. I simply expressed condolences and made sure they were aware of the influence Chris had on my life.
I didn’t feel as though I was in a position to offer any help, because of the geographical distance, but assured them that they were in my thoughts.
Contact with surviving relatives can be reassuring – I found it very helpful to know that the family’s lives went on, although they obviously miss her presence in their lives.
I can only speak from my experience, and I would welcome any comments/advice from those who have successfully contacted relatives of their departed online friends. Please feel free to share your story in the comments.
Wishing you peace and strength on your journeys,