Grief and Online Friends

Social media, and especially blogging, allows for the development of close bonds and friendships with people we may never have the pleasure of meeting in person. Such people can play a hugely important role in our lives and relationships are built around shared interests.

In some cases, people that we grow close to online can be enormously supportive in our lives. The very fact that they live thousands of miles away but are still there with words of kindness, fun, advice and friendship makes them all the more special. They don’t care how much money we have or don’t have; what we look like; how we’re dressed ….. they see straight into our minds and hearts through our words and photographs and they care about us, just as we care about them.

There’s no easy way to learn that any friend has died. The passing of online friends can sometimes happen without us ever hearing about it. They just go silent. In other cases, we learn the sad news via other online friends or acquaintances and there is a horrible sense of shock and helplessness. There’s nowhere to go with a plate of sandwiches or an address to which to send a sympathy card ~ there’s just a vacuum. That vacuum is when you are in the non-virtual’ world and occurs because one’s nearest and dearest are unlikely to have had any connection or possibly knowledge of the online friend who has died.

But, there can be great communities of support in some cases when a much loved online friend dies. This has been the case in recent days with the sad passing of Paul Curran, who was such a good blogging friend to some many of us here on WordPress.

I can’t remember when Paul first came into my life ~ I guess it was three or four years ago. He was one of those people who commented on my blog on a very regular basis and I loved to read the Sunday guest posts which he wrote on Willow’s and then Mark’s blogs.

Paul was a Canadian man with a huge heart. He had lived a life of adventure and ups and downs and was a true fighter when it came to the illnesses with which he had to grapple. Most of all he was a man who had a love of life ~ down to the simplest of things.

He was man enough to be able to laugh at himself and shed tears for those he felt were less fortunate than himself. He spread hope wherever he went in blogland with his wise and well-chosen words.

So, how do you cope when someone as significant as this dies?  I wish Paul was around to give an answer to this question!

Paul Curran (RIP)

My sense is that, like any other death, you’ve got to give time a chance to let the reality of the situation sink in and also do what one can to remember the person as they have suggested they would like to be remembered.

What Paul’s comments always suggested to me was that he longed to be at the ocean ~ and he was soon to be there if he had just lived a little longer.

He would also want openness ~ yes, Paul, I have shed tears knowing that you are gone from us and I’ve given Puppy Stan, whom you loved, a special cuddle. I’ve also read back over some of your comments and smiled, pondered, wondered, smiled again.

One thing I DO know is that just because you were an online friend doesn’t make you any less a friend than a ‘real’ one. I know I will think of you when I’m by the sea or old places that you always thought were awesome. I’ll give a little wave to truck drivers as they pass me by and think of all your adventures.

You can be damn sure, I won’t ever forget you and I know that there are many, many others all around the world whose lives you touched who feel just like I do tonight.

Rest Peacefully, Paul, and know that you have made more of a difference than you could ever, ever know.

The Seashore of Love




Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

37 thoughts on “Grief and Online Friends”

  1. Your words are so lovely. I know he would be very honoured.
    Paul made SUCH an impression on me that my entire family have been impacted today simply as they know all about him from my conversations about him – I am fortunate to have them around. He always did tell me that.
    How do we cope? We remember I guess. We don’t hide away from the obvious impact and loss we feel. We honour them with our pain and our tears – both sad and joyful. ❤

    1. Thanks so much for writing. I’m glad you have family about you who knew about Paul. I’m fortunate to be in the same position and to have the dog he took such a liking to.
      I think he’d be pleased that he’s forged new bonds, even if in grief. Take care and do keep in touch, j.

  2. I know how it hurts. I had a good Panoramio photographer friend from Ennis. When he stopped posting photographs I didn’t worry too much because it had happened before. After a while I realised that something wasn’t right, and then I read his obituary. As you say, they go silent and it is how we know that something is terribly wrong. RIP.

        1. The knowing we’ll never meet them now is a key aspect but I think that the very distance in many of these cases adds to the sense that we can be ourselves with kindred spirits we meet online.

  3. I have had quite a few dear cyber friends leave too soon, you grieve as if you were side by side. Some I did get the pleasure of meeting after time, and it was as if we had lived next door all our lives. Connections of the heart and mind are real, no matter which way they are formed. I’m sorry for your sadness…

    1. Hi Cris, sorry that you, too, have experenced such losses. I guess that are an inevitable part of being part of say a blogging community.
      I love your point about connections of the heart.

      1. Our lives are a tapestry of all we experience, some threads are smooth and bright, others are snagged and dull, but the tapestry would not be the same without all.

  4. You have summed it up so beautifully, Jean. I didn’t know Paul but I know what it is to lose an online friend. It is a shock that can’t easily be explained to people who haven’t ever made friends with anyone purely via the internet. Thank you. Robin x

    1. Hi Robin, many thanks for writing and I’m sorry that you too have suffered the loss of online friends. I think it’s smething that we are going to have to get used to if we are bloggers, especially.
      Sorry, too, that you didn’t know Paul. He was himself!

  5. I didn’t know Paul, but this is a wonderful, thoughtful tribute Jean. It’s so true that we become close to people we’ve never met and think of them in situations just as though we knew them in the flesh. I’m not aware than any of my online friends has passed away, but there are still some I miss that no longer post.

    1. Hi Andrea, thanks for your kind words.
      Yes, online bonds are certainly complex and can be very strong.
      I know that ‘no posting’ that you mention. It can be deafening at times.

  6. What a beautiful, touching tribute. I didn’t know Paul, online or otherwise, but I know what you mean about online friendships. I think the blogging community is particularly welcoming and good at fostering compassion and creativity. Wishing you a lovely week.

    1. Thanks Robin.
      Paul was very important to me and his death really got me thinking of the extent to which friendships have changed especially in terms of their beginnings and endings.

  7. Hi Jean I am sorry that it has taken me so long to comment on this beautiful post. I truly concur with every word.
    I have been knocked sideways by Paul’s sudden departure, so like him, no fuss no nonsense.
    I could not blog for a couple of days, why , I did not know him , we never met. Yet he touched my life he helped me to cope when I was down.
    I feel guilty now for the times I just put a thank you Paul instead of the fuller reply his comments always warranted. I will not be alone in missing him he is a huge act to follow. xxxxxx

    1. Oh Willow, I more than understand and no apologies needed. He has been very much on my mind and I was only reading back more comments of his earlier today.
      You certainly aren’t alone in missing him, that’s for sure. xxxx

  8. Jean, Your eloquent words about Paul have made me know what I’ve missed by not knowing him, nor having him for a cyber friend. Even though I never read a word he wrote, I feel enriched by the beautiful tribute you gave him and by his presence in the world. Thank you.

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