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Death on the Internet

Buzzfeed had a great post last week about mourning someone you didn’t really know. She begins with the death of a popular vlogger and then continues into various celebrities such as Prince or Amy Winehouse. The author describes what so many of us feel when we see the news online; gutted.

She knew the vlogger — Meechy Monroe — in the sense that she watched her videos and commented. She writes,

Meechy Monroe, who was a couple years younger than me, had occupied a space somewhere between celebrity and friend in my mind: I looked up to her in a way, but also felt intimately connected to her, by virtue of her tutorials and age. This was not the time to die, not by a long shot.

The possibility of death was there — Meechy fought brain cancer for two years — but that doesn’t remove the gut punch felt when the worst comes true. When you are going about your day, oblivious to what is happening for that person’s inner circle, and then read the news after the fact because it is posted online.

If you are with someone who is dying, you begin the mourning process before the person is gone. If you are one of the everyone else, the death comes out of nowhere: a jolt, a slap. Your day was about getting to the grocery store or finishing a project. And now it is suddenly about mourning, too.

The author was grateful that the vlogger’s sister posted a message expressing her condolences outward — to the people who watched her sister and now missed her — and it’s a touching moment that the author describes as “a gracious gesture to include strangers in this most private of griefs. Meechy was MsVaughn’s little sister. But she belonged to us also.”

It made me think about all the bloggers in our community who have died over the years. Emilie and LisaP and Nancy and Alex. Sometimes I’ll be looking for an old post and find their comments. Sometimes Facebook will ask me if I want to wish a person a happy birthday when that date rolls around but the site hasn’t been told that the person is gone. In all cases, I remember mourning deeply; crying hard because someone that I read, someone that commented or emailed with me, was gone.

A friend described feeling sad about the recent diagnosis of John McCain’s brain tumour. It’s not that she liked John McCain’s politics or had admired him greatly throughout the years. It’s that she knew exactly what his family must be going through emotionally right now because she had gone through that news in her family, too. And she felt gutted for them because we are all human. She doesn’t need to know the person to feel sympathy knowing how one feels when facing down that sort of diagnosis. Humanity, in that case, trumps all other facts from how well you know the person to how you feel about the person’s work.

I think that shared humanity is there when it comes to all deaths that we read about on the Internet — from celebrities that we thought would be around if not forever than for a longer amount of time to the random people who enter the national consciousness because their story breaks the surface of the news cycle.

Death is an expected part of the lifecycle, and yet it’s the one life moment that feels so incredibly wrong. We dread it and we don’t like to think about it. Any death — the ones on the Internet or the ones in our face-to-face world — force us to confront death as fact. Sometimes we miss the person, or what we knew of the person, and sometimes it’s that the person serves as a gate to considering our other losses or worst fears.

It’s a moving post about loss and the Internet and how much we end up meaning to one another. Our lives crash into each other on the Internet — yes, even celebrities get closer to the general public on the Internet — and it changes us. So we mourn them when they’re gone. All death is hard. The death of someone we’ll miss is even harder.


1 Karen { 07.25.17 at 10:13 am }

You know, this is a timely post. Celebrity deaths don’t usually hit me hard. But last week, I actually cried when I heard that Chester Bennington (of Linkin Park) died. LP’s “Waiting for the End” was a regular on my running playlist, and it got me through our last miscarriage and the end of treatments. At the time, I really only allowed myself to grieve while I was running, so every one of my runs ended in tears at the line: “The hardest part of ending is starting again.” And, too, he died of suicide, which I have a personal connection to through my cousin. So I felt a more personal connection to him than, say Amy Winehouse or Prince.

But bloggers, that IS a personal connection. They invite you into their lives and give you their stories, and at least for me, I’ve become in-real-life friends with a good number of the bloggers I read regularly. The loss of one of my friends does shake me, especially when someone is young.

But you’re right. Death is a part of life, and we don’t like to talk about it… or think about it. Especially someone we are going to miss.

2 nonsequiturchica { 07.25.17 at 10:42 am }

I know that I am weird in this, but I don’t grieve or feel a loss when a celebrity dies. Sure I like Prince’s music and it sucks that he won’t make any more, but I didn’t personally know him so it doesn’t really affect me. I’m not sure that any celebrity would make me cry if they died- but I definitely know that I am in the minority in this.

However, if a blogger that I knew…that I read….died it would be a different story. It’s different because as a blogger you are sharing stories about your personal life and (depending on the blogger of course) you get to know them.

3 Sharon { 07.25.17 at 12:54 pm }

I guess I am really “dead inside” as my sister has joked for years because the deaths of people I don’t know don’t really affect me, whether they are bloggers or celebrities. I might feel sad for a few minutes when I first hear the news, but since they aren’t an integral part of my daily life or my inner circle, I am able to quickly move on and forget about it.

I realize I am in the minority on this.

4 Jill A. { 07.25.17 at 2:54 pm }

That was a very good article. Thanks for the link! Musicians, bloggers, authors, when these people die, they leave holes in my life. They leave holes in my memory. My best friend died a in 2011. The horses we rode and loved are long dead. The musicians and singers are gone. The wine we drank is no longer produced. The school we went to is gone. The people who knew us, parents, siblings, are dead.
Each of those losses, and others, chips another hole in my memories. The memories get less solid, somehow, more hazy. And I grieve for the other people who have lost the same things I have lost.

5 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.25.17 at 8:05 pm }

Nancy. Jeni, Susan (adoption bloggers). I can recall the punch when I first heard of their deaths. Different from when Prince or Amy Winehouse died.

I have a Friends list in Facebook for people in this category. It is still in the single digits. It won’t stay in the single digits — one way counting and all — but I suppose that’s the cost of crashing into each other.

6 Mali { 07.25.17 at 8:41 pm }

I have to disagree with you on one point though. You said, “… and yet it’s the one life moment that feels so incredibly wrong.” Sometimes, it is right. It is at best timely or happens way too late. Anyway, that wasn’t really the point of your post, I know.

I think there’s a difference between relationships forged on the internet, through blogging perhaps, and those of celebrities. When we comment on each other’s blogs, try to provide comfort at times, disagree at times, laugh and cry together, there’s a relationship that isn’t really there when celebrities depart, and so more to mourn.

Still, I agree that when someone dies, whether we knew them personally or not, there’s a hole left in our lives, and that’s never easy.

7 MissingNoah { 07.26.17 at 1:52 am }

Very timely for me. My small town had a tragic loss this week. A teenager in a hiking accident. I didn’t know him, or his family. But I know people who do. I have friends that teach at the high school where he went, and where his dad works. And I know all too well how the world has just dropped out from that family. I feel odd being effected by it since I don’t know them. But in a small town, losing a teenager leaves a big hole.

8 loribeth { 08.08.17 at 5:24 pm }

I read this post while I was on vacation, shortly after I wrote on my blog to mourn the loss of a singer from my youth. In reading the posts on the band’s Facebook page & comments on the news articles in my social media feed, I felt a renewed appreciation for his music and a kinship with others who felt the same. I’m glad you also mentioned the bloggers we’ve lost over the years… I still think about some of them from time to time — Emilie and Nancy and MLO Knitting — and wonder about how their families are doing.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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