Allowing yourself to grieve online friends

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A young woman sits in a chair next to a window, looking at the laptop that is resting on her lap.

[…] though this loss has wounded others too
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens’
[1]

John O’Donohue, ‘For Grief’

In this piece, Casey shares a little about the experience of grieving the loss of friends made online, and the unique complexities of that situation.

Over the last 18 months, many of us have found ourselves re-evaluating the importance of friendships that take place solely online. Whilst we could not meet up with friends,  many forms of video chat became commonplace.

It may be that our attitude towards virtual friendships has changed for the better. 

In 2010, when I first sought support in grieving the loss of an online friend, I found seemingly endless pages of messages from hurting people who were trying to talk themselves out of their pain.

Following the loss of my friend Chris to breast cancer in April 2007, I was bewildered. We met through a fan forum dedicated to the former Beatle George Harrison, and I cherished our nightly conversations. Her death represented my first close loss, and because of the virtual component, I was utterly at a loss as to what to do. 

Though I remained connected to the forum community and formed bonds with other users, this was something for which I later paid the price.

Navigating Cyberloss

I found grieving without the usual rituals very challenging. It was only three years later that I found the necessary strength to begin seeking situation-specific support. Upon discovering that there was no accepted term for this type of loss, I created one. 

Ultimately I created the resource I needed, and Navigating Cyberloss was born in December 2010. I initially used the site to record my experience but soon connected with others experiencing similar losses. At its peak, the site reached 15,000 people.

Navigating Cyberloss represented the beginning of my online writing journey. Despite the discovery that I had been taken advantage of by others I corresponded with after Chris, I remain passionate about legitimising the loss of online friends.

The openness we share in online friendships means that it can be just as vital to allow oneself to grieve when an online friend dies. 

I continue to honour my friendship with Chris today through nurturing the creative writing she loved. I am currently working on a long-term writing project about my experience of online friends, cyberloss and catfishing. 

Casey Bottono

Read more of Casey’s Navigating Cyberloss blog here.


[1] O’Donohue, J. For Grief’, Available at https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/for-grief/ [Accessed 29th August 2021]