When they tell you about the stages of grief, everyone is quick to produce the familiar Kübler-Ross model touted in psychology classrooms the world over: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. To cycle through the steps is to truly master the art of mourning, to truly experience the pain that follows from losing a loved one.
But what happens when the pain isn’t so well-defined?
The way we communicate is in constant flux, a change that can be chalked up to the growing number of social media platforms existing quite literally at our fingertips. Friendships are formed the world over, time zones becoming irrelevant through the use of messaging platforms and e-correspondence. While every stranger one meets via a shared opinion on a message board or a particularly rousing student-run blog might not lead to a lifelong faraway friendship, the internet has provided a new means of peering into another person’s life regardless of distance.
And you follow your internet friend. You know their quirks, their bad habits, their preferred memes, and their least favorite clickbait sites. You follow them through their highs, and you offer as much support as you can when they’re at their lowest lows. You shower them affections — mainly in the form of likes, or shares, and maybe the occasional private message. You grow attached to someone whose face-to-face interaction might as well be limited to a “/tagged/me” page on tumblr. It’s voyeurism at its purest, the essence of “slice of life” interactions.
And one day, your internet friend doesn’t log back on.
At first, you think it’s an internet-detox. It happens, people need a break from the constantly streaming information directly into their eyeballs. But their blog is still posting, queued up, and automatically updating as time continues to pass by in the real world. You continue with your day, moving through your routine as though everything is normal. Because, at least on your end, everything is normal. Then one fateful day, you hear the news through a friend’s friend, and the obituary makes its way into your inbox.
Your internet friend is gone, and it’s a very strange feeling. Maybe you’ll cry; not at first, but it’ll hit you when you see that their blog is still around, even if your friend is not.
Sometimes the Kübler-Ross scale doesn’t take into consideration the effects of a long-distance friendship or a faraway friendship. Because this person may not take up space in your life in some sort of monumental capacity, the swell of your emotions may not be as intense as the well-known model of grief would have you believe.
Instead, there exists an emotional purgatory, a background sensation that something is missing. You start to notice that your internet thoughts are seeping into your actual life, maybe in the form of a post-worthy snapshot or the ghost of a shared memory. They don’t tell you what to do when the pain of losing a friend comes in dull, throbbing waves; when you find yourself, in the wake of a quiet moment, thinking about all the messages you could’ve sent, the impression you could’ve made, the things you could’ve done to be a better faraway friend.
It’s been a year since you logged off, and I’ve been thinking of you ever since.