Working in the field of loss and grief gives me an opportunity to meet many people from all walks of life using the medium of a simple telephone or my online Facebook page – My Bereavement Companion ™. I created this page as a social experiment to see how receptive people were to share and grieve online with others they didn’t know. The results as per my prediction were outstanding as people from all around the world started posting on my page, writing to me personally by sharing their insights about their personal grief experiences and sharing photos of their loved ones with me and to my followers on my page; indeed and undoubtedly there is a sense of community online and I have been privileged to watching the page flourish into a caring and nurturing place to visit and mourn. What I have witnessed unfold is a community of bereft people coming together as a means of sharing their grief stories and showcasing their loved one to anyone available to ‘listen’ and recognise the pain associated with loss. Finally and at last people felt compelled to share their grief journey with others and in return felt acknowledged by people who also felt a sense of connection with them due to sharing the same common ground of loss. Thus, grieving online is a validated means of expressing grief whilst feeling a sense of camaraderie with others who have joined the same grieving club no one wants to join.
Grieving anonymously online can be a liberating and empowering experience. There is such freedom in being able to wear your heart on your sleeve without the fear of judgement or criticism. It’s an online community of people who ‘get you’.
There is this real need for people to express their grief without the usage of verbal, spoken words but rather with the usage of a keyboard and a few clicks of a mouse. People feel more inclined to open up and express their grief by not having to speak per se with their tongue but more so with their heart. I recall being contacted by a young women who lost her child to cancer via email. I had encouraged her to call me to discuss options for counselling but the thought of coming into the centre, sitting in front of a counsellor, and exposing herself to me emotionally was all too daunting. Thus, she found comfort in the suggestion of online counselling. This form of interaction enabled her to write about her grief without having to physically exert herself in conversation which she was not ready to do, there was more comfort sitting at home in front of her personal computer than driving to see me and talking about the death of her only child which for her was disabling and immobilising.
This expression of online mourning has become more and more an accepted form of communication between individuals who feel a sense of connection with others who seem to understand their grief even though that person may be a stranger. This phenomena of ‘online support’ is steadily on the increase and a source of comfort which I have seen soar more recently after the deaths of David Bowie and Prince. Fans of these artists, including myself, have felt like we have had no means of articulating our grief due to judgement and condemnation by others who don’t recognise our grief responses. Forums dedicated to both artists have been a wonderful and welcoming means of expressing grief with other fans, this outpour of grief has been a comfort to many around the world and has united many people together in our grief. Family members and friends can be quick to dismiss one’s grief but there is a feeling of security online as there always is someone on the other end of the screen to ‘connect’ with. Interestingly, people are not always inclined to seek professionally support after a death and only a small portion of the community will actively seek bereavement counselling. Thus, most people feel a sense of empowerment knowing that they can seek support online in a private setting.
All in all, people need reassurance when they are grieving. They want to be re-assured that their grief is normal, validated and a healthy means of expression. If strangers are on stand by to offer this support than this is a normal, validating and healthy means of expression. Connection and a feeling of self worth is critical during the acute stages of grief. Regardless of who is on the other end, the support that the seeker receives is second to none. It just confirms the need to be heard in a society fixated with ‘fixing’ the bereaved rather than listening and ‘companioning’.
Posting words of comfort and solace online can be a very effective tool in supporting the grieving community. Those who grieve don’t want to be treated like they must adhere to certain rules and regulations around grief. Grief is a life long process and there will always be triggers in life to re-stimulate the cycle of grief again. Being part of an online forum with others who grieve can be a useful and helpful tool for supporting other bereft individuals but by also feeling supported in return by those like you who are in mourning. It is a safe haven for many who are isolated and not ready to verbalise their grief – it’s the way of the future and a wonderful way to release and express ones self in an environment that is solely catered for those who grieve.
Written by Janice Butera
If you have any questions about this piece of writing or any enquiries about bereavement counselling online please contact JaniceButera@hotmail.com with subject heading ‘Grief & Loss’.
@ My Bereavement Companion.