Mark J Kline:
Ask Dr. Mark 19: Coping With Loss
Why can dealing with the loss of someone you've never met be so difficult?
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A truly good topic to tackle, and one near-and-dear to the hearts of many people here. The fundamental question is the old "do online friends count?" Thankfully, I'm hearing that question asked less and less as the years go on.
In your real life, to a large degree, you're "forced" to make friends with the people around you. This is good for us, as it can lead to growth--you have to learn to deal with flaws, differences, and minor incompatibilities in your real-life friends--and broaden our experiences by forcing interaction with people we might not have selected from a "menu."
Online, however, the whole world is at your fingertips. In some ways, this makes things less personal... but in other ways, far more personal. The internet gives you the tools to find people who are exactly what you're looking for in a friend. Similar interests and values, compatible personalities, criteria you can't be quite as specific about in the real world.
In some ways, this can deepen your connection to these friends. You aren't bonded by happenstance and proximity, you sought and found each other, in a sense. And you worked to maintain this connection without the benefit of closeness and convenience. These friendships can feel a bit more... I guess "earned" is the word I'm looking for here.
It only makes sense that a relationship like this can surprise you with its gravity, particularly when it so abruptly ends. Sometimes you don't realize how deep a tree's roots go until a storm pulls it up.
As a teen who was, due to mental, physical and social issues, largely unable to affectively socialise in the real world, I developed a number of extremely close releationships with people via online chats before I started online gaming.. friendships, rivalries, even romances.. one of which would eventually lead to my moving accross the world to marry.
During this time people would often come and go in our lives, and we would very rarely know what had happened.. had they just gotten busy in real life, had they decided the games we played were no longer for them, had they gotten sick.. or worse? Even all this time later I still look back with concern to the young man I knew who lived in Sarajevo during the allied bombings and who vanished a few days after we told him what was going on.. or the older lady that we all knew was suffering from cancer but tragically will never know if she overcame it and moved on, or passed away without a single family member knowing, or thinking, to notifiy her friends online.
None quite stick in my mind, however, as much as a young family my wife and I knew through Everquest 2. Starting to play at roughly the same time as the young mother involved in the family, we levelled up often grouping and discussing our real lives as we were in the same guild.. we heard about her baby, and her partner and various hopes and dreams.. never anything negative. One day, a few months into the game and with this young woman having become a firm and popular member of our guild, she vanished. This isn't unusual, after all.. unfortunately, several months after a guild member saw a news artical about a tragic murder/suicide who's victims matched the description we knew of that family, and upon contacting the people involved we discovered that it was indeed our friend.
These events are terribly shocking.. in the case of my wife and I, we have yet to return to that game after finding ourselves simply unable to play it or enjoy it after those events. Perhaps worse is the idea that, indeed, we cannot really mourn for someone we felt we knew well but had so suddenly and tragically taken from us... grief of this sort is made all the worse by the fact that, perhaps understandably, the families of the deceased rarely think to notify their online communities.
This is getting better... this letter clearly shows that some people are thinking of their loved ones online friends when things like this happen. Ten years ago people simply vanished, leaving mystery, ill feeling or niggling doubts. Still however, trying to grieve or feel bad for the loss of these people is compounded by our own confusion over why we should, after all we don't "know" these people as we are told all to often by many people who do not spend as much time and give so much investment into online only interactions as we may.
Even with ideas such as an online wake, we must be careful only to expose it to those who understand. If past events on World of Warcraft have shown anything it is that these tragedies are only truely understood by the people involved in communities close enough to care, and even our "brothers" in the extended online community will rarely understand and may feel it an opportunity to mock and belittle others.
Well, this article was interesting to read.
I myself have never gotten to really know another person online. I guess i really don't trust anyone.
But yeah, i wouldn't imagine how i would cope with someones death... I have lost a relative, but going trough that was weird. I just didn't think about it, at all. Seriously. i just lived my life on. I suppose it finally hit me when i had to stand next to the open casket (for a farewell).
Though, i still haven't thought about it any more, at all. Even writing this kinda makes me uncomfortable, because of the memories.
My guild is primarily made up of older members, many 60+, and some 70 or 80+. We're also a fairly large community. Both of those add up to mean that we have a relatively high number of people passing away in our ranks. The leaders have created a forum called "Gone, but not Forgotten" that serves as a sort of memorial for members that aren't with us. People can post condolences, share stories, post pictures, etc. It seems like a very appropriate response to me.
This is why I love the Escapist. Fantastic piece doctor! Thank you for the words of advice I'm sure a lot of us will need at some point.
It all makes sense to me, because people I have seen or heard of in real life when they died I felt nothing because I had no connection to them but when someone online you really bonded with dies it feels like getting stabbed in the heart.
A well thought question and a brilliant response. Reading this article made my day. Thank you.
Here's my 5 cents... My mom died recently. She was only 59 and was unexpected but that's cancer... Obviously it's very hard for me to deal with it but I found a couple of things to be helpful...
a) Started playing guitar! (helps me alooooot);.
b) Force myself to keep my life going (for a while I was stopped hanging with my friends, etc.);.
c) Imagine what she would say to me if she saw me sad over this (my mom was a strong women so she would definitely would kick me in the ass if I was to cry over her);.
d) Write a letter (or e-mail in your case) and send it...
e) Try not to think all the time about it but don't repress all your feelings otherwise you'll loose too many nights of sleep.
To be honest I assume my experience is more painful but losing someone (anyone) close (no matter through which channel he/she was close) is always (too) painful... Get used to it and try to grow as a person from the experience. Make your life a tribute to the lives of those who where close to you but no longer are. No point in moping...
As for being an online friend... I personally don't have that many online friends (I have a hard time thinking of even one) but thinking of how misleading some "real" relationships are it's not too hard for me to picture why one could build strong bonds with someone else online...
Every time you star feeling sad or whatnot imagine what he would say... Being an online friend I imagine he would slap you around with a large trout... ;p
I hope I helped in anyway... Sharing this was a bit helpful for me but now I really need a smoke.
Mark J Kline:
Ask Dr. Mark 19: Coping With Loss
Many young adults have an unrealistic sense of immortality based on more infrequent contact with death and illness, and the excellent health and good functioning that a younger body can usually provide. This can certainly add to the shock of confronting death. It's hard to believe that our bodies can age and even fail when yours works so well. Of course, I don't know if you are indeed a young adult, but I'm responding to this question as if you fall into this most likely demographic for readers of The Escapist.
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I can understand this tenfold. My grandfather died recently and although it wasnt unexpected, it gave me a huge reality shock. Unfortunately, it brought on a form of hypercondria. I started thinking i had cancer as soon as a mole itched or i felt a twinge of back pain. To deal with this i found talking to my best friend was comforting. The thing is, i have talked to him in the past and never really said anything too serious so didnt know how he would react. Well, i really shouldnt have worried, he was amazing, and thanks to him i managed to cope in a healthy manner.
I reckon the best thing you can do is talk to someone who knew the person. Remember the person, not for the illness, but for all the things that made you smile.
My grandfather was in the Navy so we decided that having a rum in his honor would be apt. This made me feel close to him but the hangover was hell :).
Find something that reminds you of that person and try to carry it on, wether it be a dumb saying that you guys shared or even a place. Whatever is good for you.
As other people have said, great article and as ever, a great response :)
Great post, Doctor!
Fo remembering those that passed, I had an idea similar to the post above about a guild forum "Gone But Not Forgotten". It's one thing to do a wake in WoW or wherever, but most of the interaction is done through chat or vent, and that isn't lasting--unless it's recorded. It's an online world, and it's good to do this; come together.
But afterwards, something more lasting is needed I think. I suggest setting up a blog at wordpress.com. It's free, you can post all the pics you want, people can comment all they want, donation and charities linked--you can upload the wake recording--and more all in one place.
A big point is there can be updates for the family, or from the family. It's an open blog, not a secluded forum, that allows all to visit long after to learn about the person, their friends, and loved ones.
In effect, it's a timeless, evolving, interactive tombstone that says this person was here, they lived, they were loved... read on so they can still influence your life.
(Sorry for your loss, by the way. It sucks, I know.)
Not long ago a long-standing member of our guild died of cancer, and him being only in his early 20's made it somehow even more terrible. I lost my uncle to cancer some time ago, but him being in his 60's somehow made it more... I don't know, acceptable I guess, even though 60 is still a young age to die.
What we did in our guild was to have a forum-thread dedicated to him. First made when we heard that the sickness had worsened (he had cancer from day 1 of joining the guild, so I guess we where a bit better prepared than many other loosing young online friends where), and then ofc when one of our members saw a post on the facebook-page of our friend's brother that he had passed away, we posted in the thread to let people know. The thread has now turned into a bit of an "goodbye-thread", and I love how it shows how many lives our friend touched :)
One of our officers had a really good and simple idea to honor his memory, and changed the guild-note of our friend and all his alts to "in loving memory", which I thought was a really nice little gesture. Especially as it will be a permanent thing like mentioned above, which will help us remember him for as long as the guild excists.
As several people have written already, then yeah, you really can get very VERY closely attatched to online friends. I never met the guy IRL, but I still cried like a little kid when I heard about it, and not having anyone to talk to IRL who knew him made it kinda weird. Luckily I'd told my mum about him, as I'd always been very impressed with how he coped with his sickness (through black BLACK humor :), so I was able to talk a bit with her when I visited her not long after he passed away.
Thanks for a great article Dr. Mark