Death and The Divide Between Meatspace and Cyberspace

The Ebbe Altberg Memorial Islet, Altberg
The Ebbe Altberg Memorial Islet, Altberg (Rated: Moderate)

This is not my only blog, nor is it my longest-running. That “honour” goes to one of my RL-related blogs, which I’ve been managing since 2006. I still write the occasional post there when I feel like it. In the fifteen years that I’ve been managing that blog, I’ve been able to befriend like-minded friends; we’ve exchanged links to each other’s blogs, we’ve had long-winded and often heated discussions, we’ve come to understand each other, and connect with each other. As blogs gradually gave way to the fast-paced detritus that is Facebook, we connected with each other there. And also on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media that are more RL.

With some people, we got to meet in person, talk on the phone, on Skype, whatever. With others, our communication, heartfelt though it was, remained within the confines of text-only exchanges – that’s what they felt comfortable with, so that’s what it was. Some people drifted away and went their own way. Others made themselves sparser than before due to family and work obligations. Some others sadly passed away.

As might be gloomily obvious from the title, death is precisely what I’ll talk about this time. More specifically, the death of a person you only know from online, with whom you’ve connected on all sorts of levels, yet you haven’t talked on the phone with them and / or met them in person. You may have spent hours chatting, exchanging comments on each other’s blog, emailing back and forth, even helping each other out with various difficulties. Still, for some reason, your connection with them isn’t “normally” considered a friendship, however heartfelt and sincere it may be, for the sole reason that you haven’t crossed the meatspace / cyberspace divide.

Illness or Loss of An Online Friend

I’m no stranger to hearing that someone I’ve known or befriended from online has passed away. Typically, I receive such news second-hand: a post on the deceased’s profile or a tweet / plurk by one of their relatives; a post, tweet, or plurk by a colleague or a friend or acquaintance we have in common; a message from one of our common friends.

I must say here that news of an online friend’s passing rarely come out of the blue. Typically, if a friend becomes severely ill, they let their friends know. They do it out of courtesy for their friends, and because their friends’ psychological support helps them too. We’re given regular or semi-regular updates, either by our ailing friend or by a member of their family who’s been handed this task. If our friend recovers, we all celebrate together. If the unthinkable happens, we all mourn, and we give his family our condolences and whatever support we can. So far, twenty-six of my blogger friends have had health issues that made it necessary for them to be inactive on their blogs and / or social media presences. Some of them more than once, actually. Eight passed away and are greatly missed.

The Missing Online Friend

But what if someone goes suddenly missing? Well, when a friend goes missing, i.e. goes abruptly silent without letting us (their friends) that they’ll be absent for a while, alarm bells ring. We immediately start wondering if something happened to our friend: illness; accident; death; or some other misfortune. So, we try to find out what’s going on. We try to find out if someone has a phone number they can call; if someone is in touch with our friend’s family. We want to know if our friend is all right, if our help is needed, and what we can do to help.

On almost every occasion, a point of contact was found and we were able to keep in touch with our friend’s family and have regular or semi-regular updates on our friend’s health. More often than not, we were able to get in touch with our friend as well. Regrettably, this isn’t always the case, and this brings me to the point where I’ll relate some recent RL events.

There was a blogger I knew from online; I was introduced to him sometime in 2008 by another blogger. I immediately liked his progressive views, his witty humour, his puns, and his very well-written posts, which were also open-ended enough to encourage discussion in the comments section. When we migrated to Facebook, we ended up getting to know each other with our real names rather than our blogging nicknames due to the platform’s anti-privacy “real names only” policy. We stayed in touch for years.

Then, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic struck. Yes, the one many are still insane enough to say isn’t real. The pandemic turned our lives on their heads. We lost relatives, friends, colleagues, etc. to the new disease and its complications. Eventually, vaccines started becoming available, and we all know how the vaccination effort became hamstrung by both the alt-right’s nutjobs and the “woke” morons who think they’re fighting against some sort of dictatorship by not making it harder for the virus to infect them and others around them. Here, the vaccination policy was age-based: first the 85+ demographic, then the 80-84, then the 75-79, and so on. Of course, this delayed the vaccination of people aged between 25 and 55 years, who make up the majority of the workforce. These were thrown – quite literally – under the bus: packed like sardines in public transport vehicles, without access to vaccines, and with no strengthening of public health institutions whatsoever.

One such case was my blogger friend I started talking about earlier; he was supposed to celebrate his forty-fourth birthday next Tuesday. Sadly, this was not meant to be. I already knew he was immunocompromised, and that the pandemic was really dangerous for him. He was anxiously waiting to be vaccinated. Government policy didn’t prioritise him at all; the sole criterion for vaccination was age. One week before the online platform for vaccination appointments opened for our age group, he made his last post on his Facebook account. Ever since then, silence. No news, no nothing. Some friends posted on his wall, asking him to get in touch, but to no avail. None of us had his number, and none of us knew anyone from his family.

Three months after his last post, one of our mutual friends (also a blogger, albeit retired) contacted me to ask if I knew what had happened to him. Of course, I didn’t know. I went to our missing friend’s profile, and saw a multitude of posts from all sorts of people, asking him if he’s OK – and not a single post from a family member. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

An Awkward Phone Call

Eventually, one of our friends whose blogging and social media presence was extremely diverse (we’re talking WordPress, Blogger / Blogspot, Facebook, Twitter, Plurk, LinkedIn, Mastodon, Diaspora, and Tumblr) found our friend’s LinkedIn account. From there, she was able to find where he worked – something he’d never spoken of in all those years. She ascertained it using public records and the company’s website, and offered to get in touch with the company, to see what was happening.

So she did. When she got back to us, she described the phone call as “awkward, at best”. The person who answered the phone was our friend’s cousin; it’s a family-owned sort of business. It seemed like she couldn’t get her head around the notion that people knew her cousin from any kind of online presence – blogging platform, social media, etc. She told us she almost felt the need to apologise to her for knowing him as a blogger. It was, she said, as if she was letting her know that our friend was secretly leading some sort of sordid life that would bring shame to his family. What she found out was that our friend was seriously ill, in the ICU, but that he could communicate with his surroundings. She didn’t ask what was ailing our friend, to avoid being too nosey.

A bunch of other people called to ask how our friend was. This annoyed the family, so it was decided that only one person would call, once a week, for updates. No one from his family came to post on our friend’s profile anything. Not a single word. But we did get some updates: we found out he was suffering from SARS-CoV-2 complications and that his condition was stable. His family’s stance, however, put many people off. Would it have been so bad if someone came and handled this like pretty much everyone else does in such cases? This question was put forward in passing in some comments.

How Not To Announce The Unthinkable

Just as we’d received an update that made us believe our friend would make it, his cousin came to his profile for the first time and wrote the following (translation mine, name changed appropriately):

Good evening to all of Nick’s “friends”.

On behalf of his family, I’d like to thank all those who managed, despite their worry, to show their love and interest in his health in a discreet and sincere manner. To all the rest, who couldn’t manage this worry and thought it was good, in “good intentions” always, to publicly drag his family through the mud in such a difficult time, to post inaccuracies and inplausible thoughts on our relations, calling Nick’s relatives’ stance “inhuman”, “manipulative”, I only have to say you didn’t know him at all.

If he read what you wrote, he himself would have deleted many of the “friends” who disrespected him, and he would protect his family members, who were by his side all these years in his daily struggle that you most likely ignored behind the alienation and safety of your computer screens.

The deceased’s wish was to be cremated.

No questions on further details on the matter will be answered.

His page will remain open as a memorial for a short while.

Any private messages you have sent will not be read, for obvious reasons.

You are kindly requested to show due respect to him and his family.

Thank you for your understanding!

PS: Any improper post that will denigrate the deceased’s family will lead to the appropriate consequences.

Of course, we were all left with our jaws agape. Seriously now? Quotation marks? So, all of the people Nick had touched and befriended all these years were not considered true friends because he’d gotten to know them through his blog and not through his business? Quite a callous way to start the announcement of someone’s death. But anyway… The next two paragraphs were a tirade against a few people who criticised the family for keeping everyone in the dark. For crying out loud, he’d been missing since early March, we were all worried sick – and, when finally someone managed to get in touch with them, instead of appreciating the concern and designating someone to provide updates whenever possible, they kept acting in a most hostile manner, as if Nick’s online friends were some sort of low-lives whose presence in his life was an embarrassment to him, his family, and their business.

Instead of saying “unfortunately, Nick didn’t make it, and he passed away today / yesterday etc.,” she railed against the very people who, for a bunch of months, had no idea if their friend was dead or alive, with a speech about how we all disrespected our friend, followed by the same old boomer crap about how people are “safe” behind their computer screens and yadda yadda. What the actual fuck?

And then she threw the bomb: “the deceased.” No “Nick didn’t make it,” no. Just “the deceased.” Is that how you refer to a loved one who just fucking died? No mention of when he died? Of whether he passed away peacefully? Nothing? Of course, I shan’t dwell on her ignorance – she doesn’t know the difference between a Facebook profile and a page. But she slammed the door on all of us who may have wanted to attend his funeral, to pay our last respects. “No questions on further details on the matter will be answered.” And she closed her rant-announcement with a cringe-inducing thinly-veiled threat.

Personally, I’m fuming. I didn’t bother to respond to her rant, but what I do know is that this doesn’t reflect well on her, and it’s most disrespectful both towards her cousin and his friends. And all this, because we all weren’t people her cousin had met in meatspace, ergo – in her skewed view – we weren’t real people.

3 thoughts on “Death and The Divide Between Meatspace and Cyberspace

  1. So, let me get this straight:
    She basically said that she didn’t recognize ANY of you people who had befriended her cousin because of his blog as his friends.
    She said you had no right to get upset at being kept in the dark for so many months.
    She referred to the cousin she “loved” with just the word “deceased”.
    She excluded all of you people from attending his funeral or even from knowing where you can attend a memorial service to honor him.
    And she wants RESPECT? FFS!!!!!

    Oh, yeah: she DEMANDS respect. If you don’t respect her, she’ll press charges. Nice family.

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  2. well damn… tough situiation and …what a shame the family seems to be so narrow-sighted… Also…sorry for the horrible outcome. I made sure my family knows about SL, my blog and what I´m doing here also a handful of people have my RL name and ways to contact. Of course now the shortest way is to go via Jonian, who is my RL Husband, too so if something happened to me he´d inform via his SM channels and on my blog. I know the feeling of someone just going missing with no way to contact them or finding out what happened… 😦

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  3. Its well proven that these internet connections are far deeper then in person ones…..
    What a shallow woman and faint quite inhumane reaction to others from her.
    But hey I think I am the only conservative left on the internet!!!
    No matter who what most of us have feelings, care deeply and matter. Not long ago I had some one leave me on Internet,
    Let me explain. I knew him eight long years. One day he decided he no longer wished to know me. Sad thing was I had just had a wicked stroke and lived through complications of brain aneurisms .. I had three brain operations . Survived it all. I quit a heavy 2 pack a day smoking habit.
    Got in a whirl of depression lost all kinds of weight..
    I stayed off line 18 months. What did this so called friend do ???
    He changed his name and made new friends .. sigh… Yep …. That’s what he did. The internet is a great place for cowards and shallow folks to hide.
    Now I will never socialize on line again..
    I tend to my blog and that’s it !!!
    I have an amazing real life husband my high school sweetheart We are married 28 years no children but we have an amazing ragdoll cat Jasper.
    We just lost (( on Saturday our beloved keeshound Darby of stomach cancer.. ) One of the most painful things I have ever endured.
    I am in touch with breeder I will get a new puppy in fall. I will name him : The Great Gatsby.. We will call him Gatsby for short,, He will need a Daisy ponders……
    Back to your post, Sir we live in a different world due to social media and internet. People pull and say crap that they would normally never do. Changing names, ghosting , saying terrible heartless things and just in turn not caring It works both ways.
    One can either be hurt or do the hurting…
    I was not put on this world to hurt !!!! I have been hurt badly by a man who decided I just didnt matter.. He didnt care if I lived or died .. Pretty sick shit..
    I will tell you I did come across his new name and profile .. It made me sick to my stomach to read he just just changed names and pretended to be a new person… He has the same intro still does blogs just changed his name and laughed at me all the while. All I was -was some joke to him..
    I could go on and on Who cares .. Right….. I love Winnie the Pooh , Dr. Seuss and music smile I love Life. I am not here to scam people or cut others… Noo I’m not perfect but I didnt deserve another to ghost, block my email and pretend He never knew me !!
    Bottom line there are some rather not people and you never know till its too late… Gods Speed Stay Save Seabreeze ….

    Like

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