Helping young people after online bereavement

By Sara Fixter – Funeral Director at FCFP Altrincham

In a time where teenagers and young people form strong relationships online, we need to be able to support them after someone with whom they have an important connection with, has died.  This “digital grief” or “digital bereavement” can have a significant impact on those impacted and we consider how best to offer support in these circumstances.

Respecting the nature and depth of online friendships

Teenagers and young people typically spend a lot of time online, using social media, gaming platforms or other online communities.   Some of these online relationships can develop into friendships that are as deep and as meaningful to them as any non-online friendship.  The anonymity associated with being online may mean that young people are more able and willing to be open and unguarded.

Online relationships provide a way for individuals to connect with others without the pressure of face-to-face interactions. Experiencing a loss of such relationships can be bewildering and lead to feelings of loneliness and distress.  If this bond was private then there is also a risk that the young person may be unintentionally excluded from the funeral or other helpful activities.

Not everyone will understand

Technology is moving so quickly, and we need to accept that not everyone immediately grasps the importance and validity of online friendships.  It hard for young people to find support if they believe that the value and depth of their online relationships are not respected by others.

Sharing how they are feeling with others in their online community can help but, as with any community, not everyone will be supportive.   In extreme circumstances there is a risk that a young person may experience “disenfranchised grief” – a sense that their grief isn’t socially acceptable or is something to be ashamed of.

The first and most important way to prevent this happening is for us all to respect and validate online friendships – only when we do that will the young people we want to support believe that we can support them after bereavement.

Rituals and memorials

Loss and grief are always a unique and personal experience.  Furthermore, there are no well-worn conventions to follow after the death of an online friend.  The person who is grieving is unlikely to be invited to the funeral and even if they are, the event might not reflect the life of the person as they knew them.

We believe that attending a funeral and talking about the person who has died with others who knew them is helpful.  When these opportunities are not as readily available, it may be helpful to explore other ways to acknowledge the loss of an important life and to engage in activities which support the development of continuing bonds.

If the person who died was part of a strong online community, then the group may plan a virtual send-off that pays tribute to the person as everyone in that community knew them.

Memorial pages on social media can be helpful to some, but Facebook only allows memorial pages to be set up by someone with a death certificate which means the whole character of the page may differ from their virtual persona.

Continuing bonds

Continuing Bonds Theory says that when someone dies our relationship with them does not end, but it slowly changes over time.  The bond can remain just as strong, and some activities and rituals may help to establish and maintain the development of these bonds.

There are many individual and group activities which support the development of continuing bonds after someone has died.  Places, times, objects, songs and pictures can all be powerful and meaningful – if ideas and opportunities can be shared with the young person, then they can choose to engage in a way that feels helpful and right for them.

Finding support

Losing an online friend is a genuine loss that can be felt deeply and should never be regarded as inferior to other forms of grief. The grieving process is the same and professionals understand the emotions felt and how to offer support.

There are some excellent online bereavement support groups and grief websites suitable for young people experiencing loss.  Please get in touch if you have any specific questions, or need some advice about where you might find the support you need – we are here to help.


Teenage Grief Sucks – Grief Support by & for Teens

The Good Grief Trust: Coping with losing a friend – The Good Grief Trust

Young Minds: Dealing with grief and loss | Mental health advice | YoungMinds

Bereavement support

The Counselling and Family Centre (CFC)

Bereavement Support Group – Wednesdays 7-8.30pm. Therapist led. Email [email protected] for a Zoom invitation.

Full Circle Funerals Online Bereavement Support Group

First Wednesday of every month 5.30 to 7.30pm

Tel: 0161 928 6080 for more information

Cruse Bereavement Support, contact your local branch:

Contact your local branch – Cruse Bereavement Support

Sue Ryder – offer free personalised expert grief support by text

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