From a very young age, even though I then lacked the spiritual understanding to articulate it, I knew that my creative soul was that of a writer. I revelled in the joy of creating worlds with words and filling them with characters of my own creation.
In my writing, I explored issues that I sought to understand although they were outside my personal experience.
My ideas and creative urges found expression through my involvement with online forums a little later on. At the age of 13, I joined a discussion forum dedicated to George Harrison, my favourite Beatle.
A few months after I joined the Harrison forum, there was a virtual birthday party for George where many fans came together online to share memories and favourite tracks. It was that evening I ‘met’ the person who gives my writing purpose to this day. Her name was Chris Thomas (or Chris Harrison on the board) and we bonded over something silly and simple that brings a smile to my face even as I write this.
During the ‘party,’ one of the forum moderators offered some virtual banoffee pie. Chris asked what banoffee was, and although I wasn’t sure, I offered my best guess:
‘Banana and toffee, I think.’
Over the next few months, Chris and I became very close, talking on a nightly basis via MSN Messenger. I soon became aware through some of her postings on the forum that she was undergoing treatment for cancer, and I hoped that our conversations might give her something else to focus on.
We continued to talk, and she shared pictures of herself and her family. Our shared love of ‘George’ and his music ensured we had a constant topic to return to. I also shared some of the creative pieces I’d been working on at the time (fan fiction and poetry mainly). It would take another year for the more serious side of my writing to develop.
Chris sought to shield me from much of the detail of her illness, so that I only became aware of crises through others who were kind enough to keep me informed through the private message function of the forum. Much as I enjoyed our conversations, not knowing was difficult, knowing sometimes worse.
In the space between, I began to keep journals. It was a case of: ‘You write you sleep. You don’t write you don’t sleep.’ To a certain extent, this remains the same.
I filled pages of diaries with my thoughts and fears for Chris, and the situation. My journaling intensified during Easter Week 2007, when it became clear on Tuesday, 3rd April, that Chris did not have much time.
Today, my defining memory of that evening is the way my hands shook from the shock, as I tried to hold a cup of tea.
Six days later, the news the board community had dreaded was posted. Chris passed away on Easter Sunday, April 8th, 2007.
The loss was devastating. I took some time to ‘recover,’ if that is ever possible, whilst seeking support for grieving the loss of somebody only known online. I found many blogs which dealt with grief and loss, but none were specifically intended for the loss of an online friend.
In November 2010, I began my own blog to fill the space. Navigating Cyberloss began as a space where I could share my own story and record my thoughts and feelings. It was much like a more public version of those many diaries, which didn’t gloss over the reality of my grief. In January 2011, my friend Kim died from complications associated with an eating disorder. I blogged about it a few days after the event, and a reader in Scotland commented to offer his condolences, and share his experience of knowing and losing a young Canadian woman and friend.
Since then, the blog has continued to grow from strength to strength. It reached 10,000 views last August, and 11,000 within eight weeks of the previous milestone. It is my hope that what I have come to term ‘cyberloss’ will eventually be recognised alongside other bereavements, so that those who have experienced it do not feel so alone.
In Casey’s words:
Casey B. is a blogger and English student living in the UK. She found her writing voice after she suffered a significant but unorthodox bereavement in 2007. You can connect with her via her blog Navigating Cyberloss or on Facebook or Twitter.