Empathy Online

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Social media often gets a bad rap, but when the widowed need empathy, it’s always available online.

Empathy comes in many forms and forums. Certainly we can avail ourselves of in-person bereavement groups and widow/widower support groups, but finding someone who understands at 3:00 in the morning when you can’t sleep or Saturday nights when everyone else is busy can be a lifesaver. It’s not just the round-the-clock availability that’s so inviting, but the forum itself consoles, allowing us the time to digest others’ thoughts about their loss, as well as provide an opportunity to carefully compose our feelings. The act of writing is not only cathartic, but often clarifying.  As E.M. Forster wrote: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.”

Can online compassion trump in-person sympathy? Occasionally. Coming face-to-face with a well-meaning well-wisher’s “How are you doing?” can be difficult at times, the answer almost impossible to convey. Facebook groups and websites for the widowed serve an important niche: grieving privately, expressing communally.

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A recent article in The New York Times noted that Larry D. Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University who specializes in the effects of technology, found in a recent study that “virtual empathy was positively correlated with real-world empathy.”

Of course the goal isn’t to replace human contact; on the contrary, the widowed shouldn’t isolate themselves. But when family and friends can’t be there or those in your inner circle can’t fully comprehend the widowed experience, online communities provide comfort and consolation.
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