Here's where it gets interesting, but isn't all that unique any more - not in today's online and connected society.
I've known this friend for about 5 years, knew her under various names/nicknames as well as her real name. But we never met in person. We were blogger friends. We'd connected via a weekly blogging ritual called HNT (Half Nekkid Thursday) in which people would post photos of themselves, typically taken by themselves, and then visit the other folks who would post the same. The photos would run the spectrum from "nekkid" meaning simple self-exposure shots of a person in their daily lives, or perhaps a simple shot of the paper cut on their finger they got at work that day, a picture of themselves with a dear friend, all the way to racy and less interpretive shots of "nekkid." But, often, the "exposure" wasn't the removal of clothing, but a peek into a person's inner self, an exposure of them. That, in my mind, has been where phenomenal connections and friends have been made.
I made a lot of friends through HNT and blogging (I started blogging in March 2005), some of whom I've established personal connections with "off-blog" and some of whom I've even had the pleasure of eventually meeting in person.
I never met Melanie Elizabeth Phillpott VanWinkle (also known in the blogging community as Stealth Bombshell and Texas Spitfire - perhaps other nicknames) in person. But we connected via blogging, via photos, via comments and silly humorous exchanges, and connected with our real names, later, via Facebook.
So I never knew her in person, but I knew her just the same. She touched my life, she made me smile, made me laugh, made me cry, made me think. I am a richer person for having known Melanie, even in this limited virtual way. And I am mourning her loss, but at the same time, wanting to celebrate her life and the fact that I have gained simply by knowing her.
The joys of the virtual online world exist. You can connect and share and communicate with great people you'd otherwise not have the pleasure of meeting in person. And that experience can enrich your life - because that's what other people do; they enrich your life.
But here's the rub: when that person dies, particularly when there's no "physical world" interaction in which people close to them know you know one another, what is the result? What is the healing ritual?
Typically, death involves ritual, involves a chance for people to say goodbye, for some ritualized sense of closure (even if the pain of that loss never fades away). But in virtual death, what is the ritual, what is the manner by which we can share our appreciation for having known a person, our sense of loss, our grief?
There was a fascinating discussion of this on a recent episode of CBC Radio's Spark between host Nora Young and guest Adele McAlear. And discussions like this help when dealing with this virtual loss. But it's true that we need to figure out a way to handle this all to common situation. A good conversation to continue.
But back to Melanie.
I found out Melanie died through another online friend who has enriched my life but I've not met in person. Osbasso recently posted a tribute to Melanie on his blog - the blog, whose weekly ritual connected Melanie and I, and thousands of other people together.
How do I properly grieve, other than post one of my favourite pictures of her and say something about her?
Thank you, Melanie - thanks for connecting, and thanks for enriching my life. May you rest in peace. May your dear friends and family find peace and comfort in all of the memories you gave them. And thank you for touching my life - there was nothing virtual about the way you enriched my life.
Melanie Elizabeth Phillpott VanWinkle