When koolaidman2011 posted on Reddit.com to mark the one-year anniversary of proposing to the love of his life, more than 1,800 community members responded. Most were moved by koolaidman2011's tragic story of love and loss. His fiance had died of ovarian cancer just 5 days after the proposal. She was only 17.
Their sad story highlights the ways the Internet and social media are transforming how people grieve. More and more, people – particularly younger folks – are using online means to communicate about the death of a loved one. Emails, Facebook postings, and tweets have become common means of transmitting news of a death.
Case in point, recently, my cousins' stepfather died suddenly. Though I live in Chicago and the rest of my family in Alabama, I found out about the death the day after, when my cousins posted about it on their Facebook pages. Meanwhile, my mother in Alabama was unaware and taken aback when I referred to the sad situation a few days later. My mom is close with this branch of the family, but she is not on Facebook (she barely responds to email). By the time the news reached my mother, my cousins had already received a flood of condolence messages online from family, friends, acquaintances, business connections, friends of friends.
Both of these stories point to another important aspect of online grieving: it's not just about expressing grief and sharing news, it's also about receiving sympathy and getting support. Of course, as ABC News points out, online forums and discussion boards can provide healing and comfort, but virtual interactions "cannot replace face-to-face support. The Internet can't give you a hug."
Hugs and face-to-face support are important but, as someone who lives far from family and friends, I can't imagine grieving without going online.