Online Friends and Death

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A screen shot of the forum as I express my grief over my deceased friend (Image: Mandy Horetski)

If you are like me, you probably have at least a few friends that you only know on the internet. I’ve been on the internet for 15 years now, since my sophomore year in college. I’ve been a member of many forums and made many friends that I only know through the internet. Some of these I’ve met in real life, but most I’ve never had the chance. But I’ve never had an online friend who passed away, until I found out a friend from a forum I’ve been on for seven years passed away over the weekend.

The loss of my online friend got me thinking about online friends and how to grieve for them. I think it may be harder in some ways to grieve for an online friend because most people won’t get the chance to attend a funeral or see physical signs that that person is no longer living. They just simply aren’t there anymore. In some cases, some people may not know for a long period of time that their friend has passed away because there are a lot of reasons a person stops posting on the internet.

For the loved ones who are left after a person who was active online passes away, there are things to consider like what to do with their social media and email accounts. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and even MySpace have policies in place to deal with accounts of people who have died, so it is something that these businesses are thinking about. I know I’ve thought about the fact that I really should write down all the user names and passwords to all my accounts on the internet, especially to forums and social media sites, so my husband can let people know in the event that I pass away.

The internet has changed the way that we formed friendships and I think this is great. I love having friends all over the world, but it does hurt when a person who has touched my life as well as many others died suddenly. For me and for members of the forum I’m on, this is a rough time as we try to mourn a friend that many of us never got the chance to meet outside of the internet.

Have you every had an online friend who passed away? How did you deal with your grief?

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10 thoughts on “Online Friends and Death

  1. Dealing with death is difficult under any circumstances. Even on-line friends who you’ve never met face to face become a big part of our lives, and their loss is felt just as much I believe.

    I’m sorry for your loss Mandy. {{{hugs}}}

  2. Mandy, I’m sorry for your loss. I can empathize with what you’re feeling right now; I wasn’t able to attend my grandfather’s funeral, and for 17 years I felt like I never really got to say good-bye. I think your suggestion – writing down user names and passwords – is a good one; I’ll do that for my husband as well.

    I hope you and the other members of your forum are able to support each other right now. It is good to grieve because it means that person has touched your life, and that is a blessing. My thoughts are with you.

  3. A long time and active user on the forum I run passed away last Friday (11/11/11). He was a relatively young guy too, only 28, which makes his passing all the harder to take. He’d been posting on the forum just the day before.

    His personality was one that you could easily call “larger than life” and he was a huge part of forum’s community and culture, so much so that he was laid to rest with a t-shirt with the forum’s logo on it in his coffin. I’m still in awe over that. It’s been hard for a number of us to deal with. My throat still gets tight thinking about it…

    Outside of the original thread that broke the news to the forum, another thread was started for all of us to share our memories, stories, funny quotes, and photos. As word has gotten around the internet people who haven’t been on the forum in years have come back to share and reminisce. I think it’s been a good kind of group therapy for everyone.

    1. I’m sorry for your loss too! My friend was only 31 – too young 🙁

      We do have a thread on our forum that we can post our condolences and whatnot – it really is nice to have that spot to be able to talk about it.

  4. I’m sorry for your loss. 🙁

    An online friend of mine lost her college-age daughter a week ago. The forum collected donations and sent flowers, a memorial wreathe, and several other small things to help as much as we can from around the world. Those of us who are religious started a thread for posting prayers and good thoughts for the family and we have kept that going since we heard of the daughter’s death.

    A year ago when the forum suddenly lost a long-time, core member, we started a thread of lit candles (she was Catholic) and posted memories and prayers for her and her family. We also did several things for her family. This year when the anniversary of her death came around, everyone started sharing memories and playing various songs (linked from youtube or other places) that were some of the deceased member’s favorites.

  5. I keep coming back and reading this post/comments today. This has never happened to me– yet– but I’ve thought about it happening. In the past ten years the closest new friends I’ve made have all been online, and while it seems easy to brush off such friendships as being somehow less Real… they’re really not any less real. And it’s kind of scary to think that something could happen to an online friend and, if their loved ones don’t post anything, you’d never know….

    Condolences to everyone.

  6. I haven’t had that happen, but I agree with you regarding the accounts. I keep getting hacker emails from my Uncle Chris’s email, who happened to have passed away 2 months ago. I know their from hackers, but it is very eerie seeing them in my inbox all the time. I wish my Aunt Mary knew his password so she could shut his email down and I really wish those hackers would leave that poor diseased man’s email alone.

  7. A few years ago, a woman I knew through an online artist community had passed away. We had become quite close and I was understandably devastated. She had been an important part of the community. We needed a way to celebrate her life and help us all grieve so I organized a virtual paint-in. Using Yahoo video chat we set up our webcams and for 3 hours, painted in honour of her life. Her family members stopped into the video chat to see the paintings we were creating for her. It was the most beautiful memorial I have ever been involved in (and I used to work for a busy funeral home a few years back – so this is really saying something).

    Finding a way to grieve and honour the friendship you had with the person is important. Especially since many of our online friends are people we are in more regular contact with than many real-life friends. Also – the family appreciated that we took the time to involve them in the memorial and enjoyed having a way to celebrate her artistic life that the traditional memorial hadn’t really touched on.

  8. In the past month I have had two friends (in life and on facebook) pass away.
    At first I was horrified–first because I found out about their deaths over my morning cup of coffee and FB check-in and secondly because it felt SO ODD to see others commenting publicly on their grief and talking to the FB person directly. At first I could not bring myself to comment and seeing all the mounting notifications of my friends’ grief just plain freaked me out.
    After a few days I felt comfortable posting about my good memories with the person and that actually, to my surprise, felt good. When I saw other people like my memories that felt good too. I still occasionally visit my friends’ pages and it is starting to feel less weird, but I still wonder at the strange places technology is bringing us too and how it is changing our lives in both subtle and profound ways.

  9. Hi, Mandy.

    I happened to find your blog post via a search for the words ‘loss of an online friend’. You ask how those of us who have experienced such a loss have dealt with it. I’d like to offer my condolences, because I know how tough it is to lose online friends, and by extension have no opportunity to say goodbye. In order to process my grief, I recently started a blog called Navigating Cyberloss (http://navigatingcyberloss.wordpress.com) where people who have lost people they knew online can gather and share memories. (Or that’s my aim for it, anyway- it’s still just getting started.)

    I wish you peace on your journey,

    Casey

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