Dealing with Grief from the Loss of Online Friends
During the 12 years since my lung cancer diagnosis, I have met some truly amazing people. Lung cancer survivors, patients and advocates have an immediate special bond. It may be due to shared treatment experience or the collective stigma we all have in common. It may also be due to the fact that we know our time may be cut short. After all, we understand the grim statistics.
Strong Bonds Are Formed
Beyond that initial bond, these relationships grow over time, naturally, as in other relationships. For example, year after year, many survivors, patients and advocates gather near Washington, DC. We laugh, we cry and we mourn. We laugh because our hearts are filled with joy and happiness at seeing each other again face-to-face. We cry because some of our friends are undergoing difficult health challenges and grueling treatments. We mourn because some of our favorite people are no longer with us and we miss them terribly.
Many patients are unable to travel due to health or finances. That does not mean we cannot develop and cultivate meaningful relationships within the lung cancer community. In addition to face-to-face get-togethers, lung cancer survivors and advocates grow close through social media. Strong bonds can be formed among these folks who have so much in common. Oftentimes people passionately advocate for their online lung cancer friends and fellow comrades.
Some lung cancer patients blog about their journey—encouraging others, sharing information or just venting their frustrations. Some serve as spiritual leaders providing an environment of caring, encouragement, faith and hope for a better life—if not in this world, then in the one to come.
All Help Us Realize That We Are Not Alone
Whether we know our lung cancer comrades from face-to-face encounters or only online, when we lose one of our community members, the result is the same: grief, deep and genuine.
But how does the online lung cancer community handle grief when one of our own passes? How do we handle these losses which, sadly, are far too many?
In a way, we are family. We also provide comfort to each other. But how does someone comfort another they knew only online? How can we comfort and support each other while remembering and honoring our lost friends? Like you, I struggle with this. Do we express our condolences the same as we do for others in our life? Flowers? Sympathy card? Memorial donation? Perhaps. We cannot attend every funeral. There are simply far too many. Here are a few suggestions. If one does not apply to you, try another. Hopefully, something will help provide a little balm to comfort those who mourn.
- Acknowledge your grief. There are no shortcuts in grieving. Allow expression of your grief. Create a space where you are comfortable expressing your feelings. If you can, set apart some time to be alone whether it is to cry or think about that person’s life and what they meant to you.
- Is it possible or practical for you to attend your friend’s funeral? If so, then do it! If not, consider sending flowers. If nothing else, send a card. Write a meaningful message in the card, stating how you knew the person and what their life meant to you. These cards will be read and reread, providing comfort to family members.
- Share your grief with others in your life. Some people have a tendency to keep their online life separate from their “regular” life. But when someone you knew and care about online is going through difficulties or pass away, it’s important you share that information with the people in your “regular” life. It will help them understand why you suddenly become sad or disinterested in planned activities.
- Light a candle; drink a glass of wine in their memory.
- If you believe in the power of prayer, whisper a prayer for their family.
- Think about how you can take action in memory of your friend. Maybe you can write a blog or create a poem in memory of this person.
- Many obituaries include a charity to make a donation in memory of someone. Understand that when you do that, the charity notifies the family about your donation in their loved one’s name. Doing something positive like this will provide comfort to others and support a cause your friend believed in.
- Some of our losses are harder than others. If you find yourself unable to cope with the loss, please seek professional help. I am not ashamed to acknowledge that I have had to do this.
Death is inevitable for us all. However, within the lung cancer community, we encounter it far too often. How we respond to the death of those we care about online demonstrates the strength of our bond and, yes, our love for each other. The next time you learn about one of our online friends departing this world, grab a box of tissues and find a secluded place. But you will not be alone. We are grieving with you.
You can share memories or stories with the community in our Memory Wall here.
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