When you think of mourning, what comes to mind? For most of us, you may think of someone’s favourite food or a nice memory or silly catchphrase they had.
But what happens when someone you love dies, but you never actually met them in person?
This is a common experience when friends are made online. Where the loss of a close friend can be just as difficult as anywhere else, but where grief can be underestimated and undervalued.
It’s not just a hobby
To a large number of people, the virtual world is every bit as real and tangible as one you can touch, smell and taste.
Thousands of forums exist for people looking to connect with like minded people, whether the bond over cars, cats – or even grief itself. These forums offer a community where people can laugh, cry and collect their thoughts together. For some it’s a nice way to spend time, but for others it’s a lifeline.
The same can be said for online gaming communities. Here you have a group of like minded people doing something they enjoy and communicating verbally for hours on end, so it makes sense that friendships are formed.
Lack of understanding can feel isolating
Unfortunately, given the fact that the online world is so new to us, people have a tendency to dismiss the interactions that happen as lesser than those in the ‘real’ world.
Because of this lack of knowledge and understanding, it can make people feel like their grief is somehow more superficial, or not as valid. ‘Do I really have the right to grieve’, ‘should I be this upset about someone I never met?’ This can make it difficult to talk about how you feel, and you may not know where to turn.
If the family wasn’t aware of the friendship, it can be hard to find out about funeral arrangements and make people question whether to go or not.
But there are ways to help manage the grief
The first step is to own your grief. It is uniquely yours and you can feel it in any way you wish to. Just because a bond was created online it does make it any less real, and heartbreaking when it ends.
On that note, whether you decide to reach out to the family is entirely your decision. If you do, however, it’s best to do in a way that is going to be easy for them to manage. They may not have been aware of your friendship so don’t be discouraged if they are surprised to hear from you.
Use your community to share memories. Online funerals are on the rise, whether through the gaming platforms themselves or through streaming services. Use your platform to share anecdotes, fun memories and to console each other through your grief.
There is support out there. Don’t feel like just because your grief is different, you can’t access the same networks that others do. Use online tools, but also look at counselling and other offline tools if that’s what you need to process your loss.
Find out more
If you’re grieving, there are some great resources to help you: