Today I am honoured that Navigating Cyberloss reader Kevin McGinley has shared his experience of online friendship and loss in this article.
For Macey—A Friend I Never Met
In early 2011 my friend Macey died in a car crash when driving home from work on an icy evening. She was 18.
I never met Macey in person. She lived an ocean away. I knew her from an online game where our characters worked together as leaders of a city. The game could be quite exhausting sometimes, so we took to logging off for a break and chatting on MSN to relax.
Macey and I chatted regularly on MSN for over a year and a half. We hardly ever discussed the game we played, I guess because we started talking to get away from it. Instead we just chatted about everyday things in our lives and so we got to know each other pretty well. Macey was a good deal younger than me—just about to turn 17 when we first started talking—but we had a good rapport and chatting to her was easy, so we became friends. Even when we had stopped playing the online game together, we still talked and it was rare for more than a couple of days to go by without us having some conversation.
So my conversations with Macey became a regular part of my life and when she died so suddenly and so heartbreakingly young I was devastated. In the time immediately afterwards, I felt like I was in a daze, disconnected from reality—everything was going on as normal around me while inside me it was like the world had stopped turning. I kept asking myself over and over, “How can she be dead? She’s only 18.” For days I could barely eat. Even as time went on, my grief stayed with me. Macey died on a Wednesday and for six months afterwards, every time Wednesday came round I counted how many weeks it was since she had been gone. Long after she died—to this day, in fact—unexpected things would suddenly rouse memories of her and stop me short in whatever I was doing. Months on, talking to a friend about dentists, I remembered Macey talking about her wisdom teeth and how she was a bit scared about going to have them out, and the grief welled up.
I looked for ways to remember her. I set a beautiful picture of Macey with her dog as my computer desktop background. I gathered all of the pictures I had from her and put them all in a special file. I went to church and lit candles for her. I had been thinking of getting a tattoo for a while but had wanted one that meant something, so now I got one of Macey’s artworks tattooed on my arm—a drawing of three lilies on a vine.
But a lot of people didn’t understand how I could grieve so much for someone I only knew online. They would look at me with a puzzled expression and ask things like “Did you ever talk to her on the telephone?” A couple of close friends gave me that look as well when they saw my tattoo and heard why I had got it. They actually asked why I couldn’t just have had a picture framed and put it on the wall. It was as if just talking to Macey on MSN wasn’t considered to be enough of a connection to justify my grief at losing her.
But Macey was a part of my day to day life for over a year and half. I knew her better and felt closer to her than many people that I saw and talked to in person every day. My memories of her tell how much it’s possible to share with someone, even if you never meet them in person, and how much someone can make an impression, even at a distance, especially someone as bright and talented as Macey.
When we started talking on MSN, I was amazed at how young Macey was. She was so capable and mature in the game that no-one would have guessed she was less than her late twenties, never mind still in high school. Her game character was intimidatingly competent, took no nonsense, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. But when you got to know her, she had a great sense of fun, with a really dry sense of humour and a nice turn in sardonic wit.
And talking to the person behind the character, she still had lots of those same qualities: I got a nice flash of scorn about not being able to read when I misspelt her name as “Macy” in our first MSN chat. She was marvellously abrupt and to the point as well. She would never start our conversations with any exchange of pleasantries, but just dive in with whatever was on her mind. Even our last ever conversation, the day before her accident, started with her just telling me out of the blue, “I hate lunchtimes.” When she signed off, she would just suddenly say something like “I have to go and cook now” and she’d be gone.
But brusque as she could be, Macey was sweet as well. She loved animals and had a lot of them at home—horses, cats, and a dog called Ember whom she absolutely adored. She often talked about Ember and showed me pictures of her. “Going to play with Ember now” was one of her more common abrupt sign-offs. She was smart about animals too. One time I showed her a picture of my sister on what I thought was her horse. “The horse doesn’t look very happy,” Macey said. It just looked like a horse to me. It turned out that the horse in the photo wasn’t my sister’s horse at all. She had swapped with a less experienced rider because this horse was a bad-tempered beast. Macey could tell its mood just from the photo.
Macey was a gifted artist too. She made beautifully textured paintings and clay sculptures that were done with an amazing eye for detail and a wonderful earthy touch. She had already sold some of her work. She used to show me pictures of her artworks, always acting a little dismissive of them—“Head is goofy” she wrote when she sent me some pictures of a wonderful sculpture of a horse—but she was proud of them too and wanted to share them and I felt privileged that she would share them with me. A short while before her accident we discussed the northern lights. She was working on a landscape and pondering the kinds of colours and shapes the lights made so she could figure out how best to paint them. The way her mind moved, the care and intelligence she brought to her art, and her so young, always just had me shaking my head in amazement.
But what really brought us close were the details of our daily lives that we shared. I followed the story of her getting her first ever job in a shop as it happened, from when she and her mother arranged the interview to her starting work. She acted casual about the whole thing, like it was no big deal, but I could tell how excited and nervous she was. On her first day she talked to me on her lunch break. I asked her how she was finding it. ‘Meh,’ was the terse reply. I asked her what was wrong. “I miss Ember,” she said—she’d been home all summer after school finished and she was missing her doggie. I could have hugged the wee darling. But she got to enjoy her job fast. Within a couple of months she was opening the shop in the morning during the bad weather and running it herself until others got in.
Another tender memory was when, after Macey’s grandfather died, she told me she was trying to play his guitar while we were chatting. She just wanted to feel close to him. But she was nervous because she thought she wasn’t allowed to touch the guitar and worried that someone might catch her and she would be in trouble. I told her I didn’t think anyone would mind—I was sure anyone would have been as moved as I was by how sweet and touching it was.
There were so many other small experiences that we shared. We chatted about Macey’s schoolwork, about her project for her art class and about how she was worried about her math grades. We talked about food, discovering a mutual special fondness for pizza and ice cream when she told me she had it for a seventeenth birthday treat and that it was one of her favourites. We talked about cooking—Macey introduced me to the concept of biscuits and gravy and had to explain that on her side of the Atlantic a biscuit was not something covered in chocolate. She complained about her hands getting chapped and we pondered what could be causing it, at least until she told me she was going out to have a barbecue in weather thirty degrees below zero. She told me about her crush on a much older manager at work, but she was a smart lass and knew it was a stupid crush and was amused at herself. A few days before the accident, she was babysitting her boss’s little daughter. She was tired but having fun and chatted amusingly with me about the games they were playing––Macey was trying to get her to play at forts with building blocks, but the little girl preferred using the blocks as bombs to drop on the fort. I remember too when Macey talked to me once about her ideas about the home that she would make for herself in the future when she was married. Her ideas were very definite—certainly not an apartment, it had to be a house and out of town, and it had to have land attached like a homestead so that she could keep animals. It made me smile, because it sounded pretty much like a recreation of her family home where she grew up.
These were all little things but they were still important. Talking about things like these helped us get to know each other more familiarly and showed we cared enough to be interested in the small stuff. Macey’s talent and intelligence were something to behold alright. But it was our getting to know each other by sharing experiences from our day to day lives that really brought us close and made us friends—and made my heart break with grief for her when she was taken from us so much too soon, so young and so bonnie and brilliant.
So people may wonder how I can grieve for someone I never met. But I look back at my sweet wonderful Macey, and at all I was privileged to share with her, and all I can think is “How could I not grieve?” My sister told me when I mentioned losing Macey, “You touched her life and she touched yours.” She was so right. Macey and I only connected online but that connection was real. I loved Macey. I miss her terribly and I think about her every day. She’s in my heart forever and I’ll never forget her.
In the future, I hope that we will share more of our stories together. This can only be the beginning.
Wishing you peace and strength on your journeys,