Death is an inescapable part of life. Whether dealing with losing a close loved one or someone we've only met online, the consequences of loss can feel the same. Connecting and forming friendships with others worldwide via the internet is a relatively new way of getting social interaction. The way we meet new people and interact with them either individually or by joining groups often leads to sharing aspects of our personal lives and forging long-lasting relationships.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Does Grief Feel Like When an Online Friend Dies?
- How to Cope With the Death of an Online Friend
- How to Help a Loved One Cope With the Death of an Online Friend
- How to Remember or Memorialize Your Online Friend
When an online friend suddenly disappears, the grief responses and the way we process their death can be strikingly similar yet very different from dealing with the death of someone we know in real life. The loss of an online friend may trigger some unexpected grief reactions leading to complicated grief. The intense emotions experienced may trigger feelings of guilt and anger, making adjusting to life after a loss more complex than it would seem.
What Does Grief Feel Like When an Online Friend Dies?
Whether in real life or an online-only friendship, the loss of a friend will produce similar grief reactions and processes in either circumstance. Some factors affecting the way you process your grief after losing an online friend include the length of time you’ve known the person, the significance of your relationship, and your psychological responses to stress.
However, the success in moving through your grief depends on the social support you receive following the death of an online friend, your ability to openly talk about your loss, and working your way through the stages of grief as they may come up for you.
Overall, there are different types of grief you can expect to experience after the death of an online friend. Initially, you might feel confusion, anger, and resentment, depending on how you found out about the death and things such as the promises you each made of being there for one another online. Bereavement in an online context is unique and sometimes complex, but the pain of loss can be profound and challenging to get through.
How to Cope With the Death of an Online Friend
Dealing with the unforeseen death of an online friend is never easy. Online friendships are often as meaningful or more so than those in real life. Many individuals spend much of their waking days online working, chatting, interacting, playing, and dating online.
The social support experienced through these online connections is frequently meaningful and offers a strong sense of community and lasting friendships. It may be extremely challenging to cope with your loss when an online friend dies.
Here are some ways to healthily get through your suffering, especially when your loved ones don't understand why you're grieving so much.
The peer support of your virtual community is vitally important when one of your online friends dies. The death in an online group often causes the whole group to break up because of the death's impact on the social group. Many people in an online group aren't comfortable talking about the death of one of its members or recognizing the changed dynamic.
When grieving, you can try coping techniques to stay connected to your online group and acknowledge the loss. Peer support and internet discussion can help you process your loss and make sense of what's happened.
Commemorate your loss
Celebrating and memorializing your online friend's life helps you make sense of their death since in-person rituals may not be an option. Many online friendships exist entirely in the virtual world, and you may know many details of your online friend's personal life they share with you.
Still, you never know if what they're giving you is the truth because there's rarely an opportunity to meet in person. These online friendships ending in death often result in nothing more than disconnection and disappearance from your online world, leaving you confused and without closure. There are several online memorial sites you can use to create a loving tribute to your online-only friend who's died.
Participate in death rituals
Grief rituals are a means to process grief after the death of a loved one or another person who was meaningful in your life. While some rituals depend on culture and religion, others are universal to any loss. Online rituals include:
- Talking to your online support group about the deceased
- Participating in online gnome runs and in-game gatherings for those into gaming
- Taking a break from online activity
You can also start a memorial page on Facebook or other social media sites or watch their uploaded videos on TikTok or YouTube.
Explore your beliefs
Talking, listening to others, and exchanging perspectives about death and the afterlife with your online peers can help you understand your beliefs about death and what happens after you die.
Undoubtedly your bonds with your online friends will change after the loss of one of your group members as each of you explores what your friend's death means to you. You'll likely experience specific changes in both your online and real lives since their death, including thoughts about the afterlife and the meaning of life.
How to Help a Loved One Cope With the Death of an Online Friend
Knowing how to comfort someone who’s grieving the death of an online friend can seem challenging, especially if you’re having trouble coming to terms with this type of loss. You can help your loved one who has lost their online friend by giving them unconditional love and support even when you don’t understand their pain.
You don’t need to fully understand the online world and its significance to those who spend time in it to give someone you love the help they need to get through their grief. The following tips may help make things easier for you.
Listen without judgment
The unique qualities of the death of online friends can best be understood by those who participate in virtual worlds and interact with the people they meet in them. Frequently, these friendships develop when users hide anonymously behind their online avatars at the end of an online connection.
You don't need to be up to date on the virtual world to recognize when a person's grieving. Your loved one may want to talk about their loss and the intensity of their grief to someone who'll listen without judgment.
Acknowledge their loss
One of the types of grief experienced by individuals who’ve lost an online friend is disenfranchised grief. When people feel they’re not allowed to grieve, they hide their pain from their loved ones, creating secrecy in their mourning. Recognizing the loss and the meaning of their relationship with their online friend helps bereaved persons better understand and accept their grief. Overlooking or ignoring their suffering causes complications that can ultimately prolong their grieving.
Encourage talk therapy
Trying to deal with the death of someone you're close to can wreak havoc on your mental health and overall wellness. The effects of grief know no boundaries and don't differentiate between online friendships or those formed in real life.
Trying to process the painful and often confusing emotions can get overwhelming for some people dealing with the death of a friend. Your loved one may benefit from the professional guidance of a grief counselor or therapist. You can find many free and low-cost options online to suggest to someone you know who's having trouble managing their grief.
Help them find new meaning
Meaning-making after the death of an online friend may not make much sense to those who don’t understand virtual relationships. But for those who spend much of their social life online, this type of loss can send them into a tailspin of adverse emotions.
Finding meaning in the death of an online friend helps a grieving individual adjust to life after a significant loss. As they explore the changes taking place in their lives, their thoughts about life after death, and how to continue the connection to their deceased online friend, they’ll discover new ways in which to add value and purpose back into their lives.
How to Remember or Memorialize Your Online Friend
Honoring the death of your online friend is an integral part of the grieving process. When someone you’ve never met in person dies, it may raise questions on whether you knew them and if it’s even O.K. to feel profoundly sad that they’ve died.
Your loved ones may not understand or acknowledge your pain and suffering, lacking the needed empathy to get you through your loss. Below are some ways you can help yourself heal from sorrow by remembering your online friend in ways that add meaning to your bond.
Light a virtual candle
Rituals help you acknowledge and accept the death of your friend, primarily when your friendship existed only in a virtual world. You can expect to feel many conflicting emotions as you begin to process your friend’s death and what it means to you. The social support you’d ordinarily get in real life is almost non-existent when trying to explain to your loved ones that your friendship existed only online.
Turning to your virtual connections and seeking their support plays an essential role in healing from grief. The virtual light is symbolic of your loss and honors the deceased’s memory while confirming the reality of their death.
Write a virtual eulogy
Often individuals who’ve experienced the death of an online friend have no connection to the deceased’s family in real life. When this happens, you can still take the initiative to write a eulogy and post it online within the group or groups where you most interacted with your online friend.
Try writing a few words on what your friendship meant to you, sharing funny stories, or expressing your grief in ways that help you tell how much they meant to you. You can ask others to add their thoughts and condolences in the comment section.
Coping With the Loss of a Virtual Friend
The mourning process is complicated by feelings of shock and disbelief when an online friend dies. Still, in time, you’ll process your grief and come out from under the weight of your pain and sorrow once the reality of their death sets in. Be patient with yourself, and allow your grief to take shape without rushing to any particular outcome.