Question: Someone I’ve communicated with a lot on social media (but never met) died suddenly. Like everything else I knew about her, this news came via Facebook, and I’m surprised by how hard it’s hitting me. What’s the best way to deal with the loss of a virtual friend?
Melvin Escobar: Condolences for your loss. I wish you self-compassion as you grieve. The fact that you didn’t meet your friend IRL (in real life) doesn’t diminish the meaningfulness of your relationship.
Since virtual relationships are relatively new in our society, we don’t always know how to navigate them. Timeless Buddhist wisdom can be of great support. I invite you to reflect on what Buddhism calls the three marks or characteristics of existence.
The first, impermanence, reminds us that everything changes, which helps us appreciate the preciousness of all our relationships. Is there a ritual to honor your friend that you can do at home? Are you inspired to create an altar with your friend’s picture, or do you want to do a more public ritual, such as making a post on their page? Honoring your friend might help you grapple with impermanence and ultimately accept your loss.
Community is essential for facing the sorrows and appreciating the joys of our lives.
The second characteristic, dukkha, reminds us that suffering is unavoidable and not personal. When we tell ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” we create more suffering. It’s said that when we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly at us. The first arrow is the pain of the misfortune, which is unavoidable, but the second arrow is self-inflicted. By telling ourselves stories about our pain, we needlessly add to our own suffering.
Central to many of our stories is our attachment to a sense of self. The third characteristic, anatta, teaches that there is no separate self. Social media amplifies our sense of hyper-individualism while provoking an urgency to move on to the next thing. However, our online lives are also expressions of our interconnectedness, and can help us feel our interdependence more tangibly.
The three characteristics of existence provide vital guidance for difficult moments. I encourage you to take time for introspection and seek support from others. Community is essential for facing the sorrows and appreciating the joys of our lives. Share your pain with the trusted people in your life.