Help needed for mourning online companion
July 30, 2018 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I am a gal (69) who "met" a great far-away guy online "dating". We shared a 7-month FB messenger and voice companionship: several times weekly, often all day long. Trajectory was fuzzy but we grew a deep warm connection. He just died suddenly. Close friends support me here but I'm flattened. Connection and any potential gone. How do I mourn/grieve a man I never met, whose friends/family don't know me and vice versa? (Other than FB.) Please respond if this resonates.
posted by Mayree to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry for your loss, Mayree.

I recently read the article "Life and Death Online", from Hazlitt, about the complications of mourning losses of online friends.
posted by ITheCosmos at 1:46 PM on July 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you. That article helps me feel less alone in this.
posted by Mayree at 1:54 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh I’m sorry for this loss you’re going through, Mayree.

I can relate, albeit in different circumstances. A few years back I came out as transgender and moved from Boston to Seattle. I was in an entirely new place and didn’t know anybody, and people on Facebook that I’d met through trans groups online were so so important to me. One friend, Aubrey, I used to chat with all the time those first months, and was very sweet and talked about visiting me up from Oakland. She talked me through some really difficult moments and was just a very important person to me. Aubrey ended up taking her life that spring, and I just felt so deeply sad and disoriented. I know what you mean about the pain of not knowing if the people in somebody’s immediate physical life would really understand that connection and it making it hard to feel that sense of completion.

Things that did help me grieve:
- I gave myself space to be totally devastated about it. Even when it felt surreal too. I tried my hardest to be patient with myself.

- I journaled about it a lot and read through our old chat transcripts and journaled some more. Eventually I wrote an essay about it (excuse the self link, but if you’re interested.) Making some form of art about it was hugely important to me — it let me manifest in the world all of these virtual exchanges, which helped them feel properly real and like I was honoring Aubrey in a way. And that process of writing about it became the sort of focal point and context of my grieving.

- I happened to have another acquaintance on Facebook who did go to the funeral, and very kindly shared a photo of a mural that a community youth group made for Aubrey. I know this exact thing might not be possible, but perhaps see if you can find any kind of tribute to this important fellow in your life. In my case it did sting a bit, feeling like I was outside this moment, but it also helped me feel like I was connecting to this greater sense of her and learning how badass and great she was.

I think that you asking this question is so lovely and hard and important and I wish you all of the best mourning him. Take care and thinking of you.
posted by elephantsvanish at 3:28 PM on July 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

I don't have any personal experience with this situation but I think it's well understood that online connections are real and meaningful. I would support your choice to reach out to the people who seem like they may be his closest friends to introduce yourself and to get more information about his passing.

You may want to only share the nature of the relationship (romantic leaning, maybe someday?) with your local support system or a therapist.

Finally, there is some general wisdom floating around metafilter that an "untested" relationship or infatuation can actually be harder to move past because all you will ever know is the potential. You may find some comfort in reading Q&A here on AskMeFi around that theme as well.

My heart aches for you, Mayree, and I hope you find peace.
posted by cranberrymonger at 5:12 PM on July 30, 2018

I had something slightly similar, in that I had a friend that I'd met online--while we had met IRL a handful of time and spoke on the phone quite a bit, I'd never met any of her family or other RL friends. When she passed I found it helpful to stay in touch with the person who contacted me (we usually exchange a message on her birthday and/or day of passing) and I sent a note to my friend's sister, who'd been the contact person for the memorial service. I simply introduced myself as another friend of the deceased and shared a good memory I'd had. I got a simple but heartfelt reply, and it made me feel less alone.

I also made donations to a cause close to my friend's heart, which helped me gain some closure by feeling like I'd observed some of the standard memorializing traditions.

My condolences to you for your loss.
posted by TwoStride at 5:29 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

One big difference is that not everyone validates your electronic relationship, so here at Ask.Me, we can do that. It's Real Loss, it was a Real Relationship. Many people have not experienced close electronic friendship/ relationship, but it's a genuine connection. You grieve. Time passes, you keep up with friends, family, projects. You're gentle with yourself. The loss is never gone, but life will feel better at some point. big hugs.
posted by theora55 at 5:56 PM on July 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry you are going through this. My condolences on your loss.

Although I have not been in exactly your situation, I've been in similar enough situations that I can really empathise with how you must be feeling. This article on cybergrief may be helpful, and the comments are worth reading as well. That article also references the larger phenomenon of disenfranchised grief - basically, grief that does not conform to societal expectations of who should grieve or why they should grieve. You may also find that helpful, to know that your grief is real and does not need to be put in quotation marks. You had a real connection with this person, and that connection is gone. It is a real loss. I am so sorry.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:00 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update: all your responses helped me to realize that my grief is real. Thank you for your insights and kindness.

Now for the next development. I am experiencing retroactive jealousy about the partners he actually had in his life. I made contact with an old friend of his and now I know more about his past than he had revealed and have seen old photos. He was gorgeous. And had a stormy romantic life. I guess because we never met I’m envious of those he was with? I told our mutual friend that I won’t seek any more details about his past, but I still once in a while search online for details. Meditation helps keep me mostly in the here and now. This is such a weird combination of curiousity, jealousy, and yearning. I adored him, and wanted time with him so much, to know him better and perhaps be his partner. Any thoughts?
posted by Mayree at 1:49 PM on August 30, 2018

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