Does the loss of an online friend count as bereavement?


This post was originally planned as the beginning of a series, but after some thought, I decided that it would be better as a single post.

Does the loss of an online friend count as bereavement?

 

Late on Saturday night, I was looking at the statistics for the blog, and the search terms people have used to find it. Some seem to be wondering whether the loss of an online friend ‘counts’ as bereavement.

All I can offer is my experience and opinion. Over the years I spent searching for support in dealing with this pain, I came across stories from others who had endured similar experiences, and felt that support was indeed lacking. Generally speaking, society does not yet seem to understand the close bond that can be formed within online friendships – which could be the root of this confusion.

The online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines bereavement as ‘the fact or state of being bereaved or deprived of anything.’[1] As those of us who have experienced grief over the death of an online friend know, it can be an acute sensation in the first weeks and months, therefore the loss of an online friend could certainly be said to count as bereavement.

In the early days following Chris’ death, and even to the present day, I experienced feelings which were more consistent with conventional grief experiences. If the general definition of bereavement is the loss of someone you have loved, then the loss of an online friend certainly counts as such.

It could be argued that those who have lost online friends did not really know the person, but that argument seems insensitive in my view. If people are entitled to a genuine grief experience when a beloved pet or cherished school teacher dies, then why should the loss of an online friend be any different?

People who have experienced the loss of an online friend should be encouraged to let themselves to grieve, as they have nonetheless experienced a loss which will have an impact on their life.

The loss of an online friend may not have an impact which is noticeable to  the person’s wider social circle, but it still represents a change in that person’s routine. Conversation with online friends can become a valued part of everyday life, and whilst the bereaved person may not be entirely aware of it, acceptance of the fact that there will be no more conversations takes time.

After a period, it may be possible for the bereaved person to assemble a personal archive of conversations and correspondence, which is a valuable tool in the healing process, even if they are not yet able to look at it.

I took comfort in assembling my ‘archive’ in the days immediately following my first experience of cyberloss. I suddenly felt as though I absolutely had to know where every single conversation was, for fear that losing them would mimic losing Chris all over again.

I spent time making multiple backups of the conversations and emails Chris and I had and exchanged – five years on, I can only look at the documents rarely, but it is reassuring to know that they are safe.

The experience of losing an online friend is as much a loss as any other, and should be recognised as such. As so many other losses, grieving an online friend is about allowing oneself to grieve the lost opportunities, recognising these and honouring them, and recognising the influence and impact that person had on your life.

For that reason and many others, the loss of an online friend does count as bereavement. Just as any other loss, it takes time to accept what has happened, and that can take as long as it takes.

If you have experienced the loss of an online friend and are wondering whether you’re entitled to feel what you’re feeling, I say yes. This person or these people obviously made an impact on your life; otherwise you wouldn’t give their passing a second thought. Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, and honour them in whatever way you see fit.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope it goes some way towards helping you to realise that your feelings are normal and should be respected.

Wishing you peace and strength on your journeys,

Casey B


[1] ‘bereavement, n.’ OED Online, March 2012 http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/view/Entry/17882?redirectedFrom=bereavement [Accessed 10th June 2012]

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About Casey Bottono

I am in love with language. I write poetry and fiction in a wide variety of genres. Most recently, I have been shortlisted as a finalist in the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities' Pen2Paper contest.
This entry was posted in Chris, cyberloss, Grief Loss and Bereavement, online friendship, online loss, online loss issues, support and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Does the loss of an online friend count as bereavement?

  1. I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell another they have no reason to grieve or they are not allowed…I am a person who feels deeply for her friends be they my neighbor on the street or online. My 2 closest friends live hundreds of miles from me, I would still be lost without them in my life. grief is grief. I am as we speak grieving for an online friend, I will never not miss her and her talent. she was a wonderfully loving person who gave me so much and many others.

    • Casey B says:

      Hi, Jan.

      Thank you for your comment. I agree wholeheartedly with what you have said. The closeness we share with our online friends is entirely different to any other friendship, in my view. We share more, I think, than we might otherwise in person. I am sorry for your loss. I can relate to what you say about never seeing a day when you will not miss her…your description of her echoes the way I feel about Chris.

      Take care on your journey ♥

      Casey

  2. Emily says:

    Very well written Casey. And I’d have to agree with every point you made. I have not yet lost an online friend, but I can for a fact say I would be devestated, heartbroken and very much at a loss. Most of them have been there with me for well over six years now. They’ve held my hand through everything… and they are so very much so the exact same thing as a friend down the street, they are family. ❤

  3. I have so many dear and beautiful on-line friends. If any one of them were to pass on, I would grieve as if I had known them in person. A loss is a loss, and we need to go through the grieving process, as you said, for as long as it takes.
    Beautiful post, Casey!

    • Casey B says:

      Thanks, Martha.

      You honour me, and everyone else who has experienced cyberloss with these words: ‘I would grieve as if I had known them in person.’ In many ways, that is what I feel I have done, am doing, with regard to Chris.

      Blessings,

      Casey

  4. I do believe that the loss of an online friend is a bereavement, Casey. I’ve shared before my sense of loss when an online friend passed away recently. Last year too, I was shocked to know that another friend who I used to chat with quite regularly passed away – and I didn’t get to know till six months later. I wrote to her son via Facebook but got no response and it seemed such an abrupt end to a friendship – it leaves you bereft.

    • Casey B says:

      Thank you for your comment, Corinne.

      The state of limbo that online friendships place us in when somebody passes is particularly difficult to deal with – I sympathise with your situation of not knowing until six months had passed. Whilst it wasn’t such a long time, some time passed before I was informed of the most recent cyberloss I experienced…it’s been difficult to pick myself up from that one for a bundle of reasons, but I’m sure the time that elapsed was a factor.

      Blessings,

      Casey

  5. AMEN!!! I totally agree. Sometimes we share more with an online friend and our conversations are more in depth. Maybe, because we have to read… before responding? Often times during “live” conversations, people tune out or speak over one another. There isn’t any friendship that is more important than the other, because we are sharing our lives with that person. Whether online or offline! Thank you for sharing this!!! 😉

    • Casey B says:

      Hi, Lisa.

      Thank you so much. You’ve hit the nail on the head there- ‘sharing our lives with that person’. I’d never thought about why our online conversations are more in depth, but you may well be right – having to take the time to read means you have to take the time to understand what the other person is saying…the most important thing in any kind of relationship or friendship, I think.

      Take care,

      Casey

  6. melissa says:

    In reality, I have more online friends than outside the net. I get to communicate with them more often and I could confide personal things to my most intimate circle.

    As a nurse, I’ve experienced grief even for my patients whom I have met only in the hospital for several days.I think I form friendships easily and I do care deeply.

    I do grieve for my friend/s who passed away…

  7. nikky44 says:

    online friends are more “real” than others because if they are your friend it’s by pure choice.

  8. Any loss – even the loss of a cyber friend – can be devastating. Whether it’s online or face-to-face, we chat with our friends on a daily basis, and we are impacted by that loss. It is necessary to allow yourself to grieve after any loss in order to be able to heal. The support of family and friends is invaluable to the grieving process.

    • Casey B says:

      Hi, Michelle.

      Thanks for your comment. I share your opinion of support from family and friends. I don’t think I would be where I am today without such support. I recognise the need, however, for a wider community where those who have been affected by such loss can remember and commemorate friends together. I’m not sure, but I think this place is getting there.

      Take care,

      Casey

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