Friday, March 5, 2010

The Internet, friendships, and grief

I heard something on a recent podcast (maybe NPR's Science Friday?) about how online social networks allow us to have far more relationships than we can realistically have in person.

There are some fun aspects to this. Need people to support you while you get fit? You can find dozens of online communities ready to do that! Want to connect with parents who have kids your age? Groups are already formed, with plenty of moms and dads ready to give you advice about everything from circumcision to schooling.

But along with all the positive connections, come all the heartbreaking stories. I wrote in January about losing Anna, an online mommy friend. I was surprised just how hard that was--someone I hadn't met in person and who I wasn't that close to online. In a project I did for her family, I found both healing...and difficulty. It taxed my emotions.

Yesterday another mom, from the same little online mom's group where I met Anna, lost her 21-month-old baby girl. I know this mom through our group and Facebook, but we don't know each other well.

My reaction has been interesting. Some of it hasn't been surprising. Of course I prayed while the little girl was sick, and am praying for her family. Of course my heart aches--as a mom, the thought of another mom losing her little child is horrifying and heartbreaking.

But I also feel a certain caution inside me--something saying, "Be careful, Beth. Don't let this get you too down." That might sound callous--a mother and father lost their child. It's unspeakably tragic.

But I'm realizing--with the dozens of purely-online relationships I have, it wouldn't be healthy to take on every tragedy as my own. Sometimes I can honor someone by grieving deeply with them. And sometimes I need to honor them by praying, by enjoying my own children, by being grateful for the gifts in my life...but not by being overwhelmed with grief.

I would really love to hear your thoughts on this, and your experiences. Thank you for reading...and thank you for the conversation that happens in that Comments section below. I appreciate you!


SciFi Mama said...

I was honestly more upset by yesterdays event than Anna's death. Mostly from having met the Mom who lost her child and having held that baby for an afternoon. Sometimes it is hard to forget that we know some people only on the internet. They become a part of our lives and have a place in our heart. I think with any death you have to take what you can from it. For a lot of people the death of any child is just so hard to wrap their head around.

No, it wouldn't be healthy to become so engrossed in your online relationships that you get depressed when something happens to one of us. Just like your real life friends, you will be closer to some online friends than others. Events that happen to those people will always affect you more.

Eternal Lizdom said...

I learned, through the events of last summer, that I feel more responsibility and pull when the family has lost the mom. I grieve deeply when I child is lost- but I find comfort in knowing I can offer comfort to the parents and that the parents are here and can ask for help or reach out for support. When a mom is lost... I think it's harder for the kids and the dad to recover because it seems that moms are the glue. I think moms connect in a certain way- I'd be pretty lost if my husband died but I know I have a fantastic support of moms and my church family (most of whom are moms) that I could rely on. I think it would be harder for my husband to reach out to that network- but I also know that "my" moms would totally reach out to him.

Call Me Cate said...

When you mentioned this on Twitter yesterday afternoon, one of the thoughts I had was about the enormous quantity of people we meet online. Our relationships ARE greatly expanded and with that comes greater exposure to a range of emotions. Not a day goes by that I don't see a prayer request for a sick child or a joyous birth announcement. Job loss, promotions, ill health, healing, life, death. There's just SO much of it every single day.

It's sort of like reading a horrible story in the newspaper but feeling like you KNOW that person, rather than a stranger.

On one hand, I find it comforting to be able to balance the sad news with that good news. It reminds me that there are both positive and negative things happening. But you're right I think that we can't take each tragedy or each joy as our own. It's just too much to handle. At least for me.

Elaine's Semi-Homemade Life said...

I didn't know Anna extremely well... and was caught off guard by how overwhelmed with grief I was when she passed.

But Jess I consider a dear friend of mine. Haven't ever met her... but we email consistently, we talk about dreams, I've been helping her brainstorm her etsy shop... I remember when she was pg with Ava and debating names... I remember the pic of her and her mom on the day she had Ava... Jess had 4 fingers up, signaling #4... I've cried alot, my pain for Jess...

But you're right... I'm going to have to let go sometimes. Not THIS time... Jess is too dear a friend.. but I won't be able to take on every tragedy, you're right. There's too many. And that's something else I'm struggling with right now... how this happens...

but it's comforting to come to our group and feel the support... to get thru these things... and I can only imagine the support Jess will need from us when she's ready!

Beth, praying for you and all our online family... :)

Special K said...

I could have written the same words. I followed Anna's blog and got so involved in worrying for her pregnancy, even angry at her when she was mad about a day with the kids and I had to go to work. You know, just emotionally involved. I don't know Jessica that well and I feel the same way, I am sad for her but I just can't wallow in grief or depression for every sad event that comes my way, any more than I can wallow in news stories. I would never be happy if I did. Thanks for writing that.

Unknown said...

From the other side, online relationships are amazing. Rich, my partner, died in July last year, in a motorbike accident. It was no ones fault, least of all his. I've blogged in a way I could never talk to my family about because they love me too much. They worry too much when I get upset - I can see it in their eyes, and I love them, I don't want to worry them. So I blog, and I messenger, and I chat and I email with people who I "know" but I don't know. I announced his death on Facebook to avoid having to tell people, although I phoned his best friends and told them. I've since organised his Celebration on FB and we had a great day, glorious, just like he was.

Online gives me a chance to cry where no one can see me, at the same time as writing my feelings out. I couldn't talk and cry like I do, but I can touch type and cry at the same time.

I think I might have to do a proper blogpost about this.

Thankyou for the thought.

(email is Rich set them up, on the grounds that one day, it would all be fine. He never got to see it, and somedays I wonder if Sam and I will, but we keep believing that it will. One day.)

Mellodee said...

It is never easy to accept the death of someone we know. It can be twice as painful if it is a child. The wider your sphere of acquaintances, the more frequently you learn of another tragic loss. In some ways you have to remove yourself emotionally, like doctors and nurses do. Otherwise, the sadness and futility will just overwhelm you. It doesn't mean you don't care, it's just a way of handling death in order to protect yourself.

Courage, my friend!

Anonymous said...

How appropriate that you have posted about this, Beth. Because it brings up something similar that I am experiencing.

I have made friends with Carla from Texas. We connected because we found much common ground -- age, late life babies, etc. But she was raised in Tulsa where Gunny lives and attended the high school his children attend!

And the last time we went there, she e-mailed me, unfortunately right AFTER we had left, that she and her husband were going to be in Tulsa at the same time we were and could we get together? Of course, we didn't because I didn't get her message until we got home.

But now she is having serious health problems, and isn't posting anything on her blog. I e-mailed her, but haven't heard anything back. I am really worried about her, but have no way to know how she is. A strange situation to be in -- a "friend" I've never met but care about -- that, heaven forbid, if she died, I might not ever even hear!

Definitely a problem not addressed in Emily Post.

Becky said...

Wow. I don't even know what to say. I cannot imagine what Jess and her family are going through right now.

I agree that it's not healthy to take every tragedy on as your own, but I still haven't figured out how to avoid that. Because not only do I feel heartbreak at the thought of another mom losing her child...but I can't help but think, "What if that were my child?" and then I really go over the edge. I'm doing a family history right now for my grandparents, and I came across an article about my great-great-grandparents' son who fell into a pot of boiling water being used for laundry, and was scalded to death. It happened OVER 100 YEARS AGO and I was depressed for days after reading that.

Even though statistically in this day and age, untimely deaths don't really happen that often, it just seems so commonplace to me. Somehow I need to put that in perspective.

Ginger said...

Beth I couldn't agree more. I don't know Jess that well, but I still feel a sort of connection with her.. Can you believe we've all "known" each other for nearly 5 years! Anna was a member of a group some of us formed on NBBC and then we moved it to FB. I felt like I really knew her, and her passing hit me like a ton of bricks. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to lose a child.

My mom is going to be having surgery within the next month, and I'm scared to death. I am an adult; and while there have been times in my life where my mom and I haven't always seen eye to eye, I can not imagine losing her.