GriefNet Library

Grief and the Internet

By: Tom Smith

One man and ten women. We would walk into restaurants. Ten women forging ahead, followed by a lone man. I was beginning to like the attention. I could sense the questioning stares. These were attractive women ranging in age from thirty five to sixty two. What kind of association would bring these people together? A garden club? A bridge club? A social club? I should be wearing a burnoose walking two steps ahead of my harem.

It all began almost a year ago. My wife died suddenly. She was standing next to me when she suffered what was diagnosed as an aortic dissection. The aorta between the heart and brain gives way and the brain dies for lack of blood. She passed away in a microsecond. We had been married fifty three years. She was barely eighteen and I was barely twenty three when we married and I had stayed in love for over half a century. I was devastated by the loss.

There is a terrible void in losing a loving partner. I knew the meaning of black despair. I descended into the pit of horror. I heard the Raven’s terrible “Nevermore”.

My house was in a remote corner of Vermont and the long nights were filled with a painful loneliness. Sleep did not come easily. Sometimes I thought I was going insane. Grieving is hard work. You are split in half. To lose a mate is an amputation.

So one long night I sat in front of my computer casting about in cyberspace longing to reach out and communicate with someone. The Internet is filled with strangers trying to communicate. Was there someone out there who would talk to me?

It was on such a lonely night that I plugged the word “grief” into a search engine to see what would appear. Several web sites came up. One was called GriefNet, www.griefnet.org. It said “GriefNet is an Internet community of persons dealing with grief, death and major loss.” I joined and was immediately swept up in email messages which so often exposed the pain of losing a loving partner. These were people who understood the agony of such a loss. These were people who were suffering. Until it happens to you personally one cannot fully understand and appreciate the depth of despair that such a loss entails. Here was a group who fully understood what I was going through. There were so many of them, all searching for some consolation and understanding.

I posted an email message and the replies came flooding back. Many said “It is too bad that you had to come here but this is a wonderful supporting place.” And it was. And it is. I soon found that many had terrible tales of sickness and lingering death, of angry families, tormenting relatives and of medical errors. I learned that many had had but a very brief time with their partner and that the survivors were frequently young. Many were raising young children who were suffering from the loss of a parent.

In spite of the misery there were frequent sparks of humor. But the most compelling spirit, which pervaded the site, was love. I was soon spilling out my innermost feelings and my struggles. Back came advice and counsel based on thoughtful consideration and caring support. I was overwhelmed by the continuum of affection.

This cyberspace network kept me sane through many difficult months. Well, reasonably sane. We told our stories. We held nothing back. Names we knew and sometimes addresses and telephone numbers. “If you need to talk please call me”. How often that was said.

Then one lady came up with the idea of a get together. Wouldn’t it be great if we could meet and share hugs in reality rather than cyber hugs. This was in October and winter was coming fast. So should we meet in May of the following year. So began the idea of what became known as the “Spring Wing Ding.”

I thought it was a great idea. Secretly I knew it would never happen but it was fun speculating. Apart from myself they were all widows. I was the only man who maintained constant email communication. Men sometimes posted messages but then disappeared again. Messages came from all over the United States, one was in Canada and another in Australia. The messages were often witty and cheerful but they all had the common bond of loss.

There was such a community of spirit at this web site. We all missed the little things of life with a partner. Planning each day, shopping together, discussing the news, petting the dogs. We were all different and yet all the same.

The winter came. We were still talking about the “Spring Wing Ding” but May was a long way away. Susan said everyone should come to her house in North Carolina. Some of us lived a long way away but we said we would come anyway knowing that we probably would not.

As the months went by the idea of the Spring Wing Ding became more fixed in my mind. Some of us began searching for flights that would not cost too much. Airline tickets were bought and hotel rooms reserved. We bought non- refundable airline tickets and that probably meant that the Spring Wing Ding was really going to happen. We set up a photo album on the Internet and exchanged pictures. This lessened the likelihood of my going up to a perfect stranger and introducing myself as the Man from GriefNet and finding I was talking to the wrong person. A lone man meeting women over the Internet. Not the image I wanted to convey.

So we did it. Denise came from Canada, Ellie and Judy from California, Lesa from Indiana, Sharon from Ohio, Rose from Virginia, Kitty from Maryland, Fay from Delaware, Jenny from Florida and I was Tom from Washington State. We met in North Carolina and came out to Susan’s house in the country. Her house was our meeting place. She shared her house with a green cheeked conure (that’s a bird) and an orange cat which creatures seemed to have come to terms living together.

So that is how I came to be the only man with ten ladies. We were a grief group sharing the bond that we had all lost loving partners. Ten men had disappeared from the lives of these women and I had lost the love of my life.

Every one in the group had a different story. We were so different in so many ways. Losing our loving partners had brought us together. There is something terribly fundamental in losing a mate. One wonders how monogamous creatures handle it. Wolves, coyotes, swans and penguins are some of the creatures that stay with a single mate. What happens when they lose their partners? Do they grieve?

We had been talking over our web site in cyber space for months. When we came together it was like meeting old friends.After I checked in the hotel I was sitting in the lobby looking out the window and around the corner came a car with four women. They spotted me, hands waved frantically and they shouted “There’s Tom!” I never thought it would happen but it did and it was special for us all. We could talk. We could hug. We could weep together.

We certainly were noticed. Everywhere we went we were asked to explain what kind of group we were. One man with ten women is not a particularly usual sight. Well, we were a grief group who had come in some cases thousands of miles to be together.

The Internet can be a grim and ugly place. It can also be a place for caring, loving and healing. The wonderful women on GriefNet made that so clear to me. Losing your partner is unlike anything in life. It is a crushing blow and it takes enormous effort to recover. Probably you never do recover. But the outreaching hands on GriefNet helped me bear the pain.

While there was a lot of weeping and hugging there was also much laughing and joking. One night we went to a club listening to a group playing and singing the blues. The leader was so impressed by this rowdy group that in the interval he came over and joined us. Like so many others he was impressed that we had come so far to be together sharing our grief.

The “Spring Wing Ding” was hardly more than a long weekend but we will never forget it. The love and camaraderie were memorable. I will never forget Denise from Canada, Ellie and Judy from Southern California, Fay from Delaware, Jenny from Florida, Kitty from Maryland, Lesa from Indiana, Rose from Virginia, Sharon from Ohio and Susan from North Carolina. But then I will never forget all the other fine people who were unable to be there but reach out to each other over cyberspace.


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