Most times, I use my social media to give me a slight reprieve from the busyness of my workday. I might jump onto Instagram or Facebook to take a break from my actual work on any given day. These little breaks allow me to momentarily escape from the seriousness of my job, helping me to push through the day.
This past Tuesday was different. There I was on my usual scroll down my Instagram feed when I came across a post that immediately made my heart sink.
Instagram Broke My Heart
The post itself was beautiful. There were three perfect photos of my Insta-Friend. Each image showcased her beautifully vibrant smile, which served as a magnet inviting me to look closer at each one.
The visual made me smile, but the post’s content made me gasp. The words “in honor of” and “legacy” seemed to insinuate that my “friend,” at the young age of 29, was no longer here on earth.
But because the post didn’t feature anything definitive, like a hyphenated birth and death date, I wouldn’t allow my heart to accept what my mind already knew. I could not shake what the post seemed to indicate, but I wanted to know for sure.
Several comments were on the post by the time I ended my workday. Many of them had praying hands and doves. But there was one that immediately stood out, the author of the post said, “welcome back,” and shared how missed my “friend” had been since she’d last posted. Under this comment was a reply. The person identifying themselves as my friend’s mother had replied that she passed away in October.
My heart shattered.
A Virtual Friendship Is Born
Sunshine and I met almost two years ago on Facebook. We were both a part of a private group. I commented on one of her updates within the group, which led to us exchanging Instagram handles, and immediately we started to develop a lovely connection.
We interacted at least once daily on Instagram, and on some days, we interacted multiple times. We shared goals for our platforms, gave each other tips and suggestions, and most of all, we encouraged one another.
Back in July, after taking a break from Instagram for a little more than a month, I returned to find a post from her where she shared that she had been diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. Due to my hiatus, there were several weeks between when she shared the post and when I saw it.
I immediately reached out to her, she gave me more information, and I encouraged her and told her that I would be praying for her and would continue to check in on her.
Between July and Late September, she shared her journey in her Insta-stories. She had been in and out of the hospital frequently during that time. But whenever I reached out to check on her, she was in good spirits. She told me that she felt this was another part of her story that she would use to encourage others.
In late August, her posting became less frequent. She and I touched base each time she did post, and she had given me a heads up that she would be posting less, but not worry because she was only focusing on her treatment and recovery.
In late September, after a long stint in the hospital, she messaged me, “Discharge is in sight,” to which I wrote, “Praise the Lord,” followed by praise hands.
That was our final exchange.
I learned through this loss that finding closure following the loss of an exclusively virtual friend is tough. In this case, I became aware of this loss more than a month after she died.
I suppose that is one disadvantage of this type of friendship. Virtual friends aren’t on the notification list when tragedy strikes. Chances are Sunshine’s loved ones had no idea of our daily chats. They also would have no idea how deeply their loss impacted my heart.
After contemplating a way to offer condolences to her family, I decided to send a final direct message to her account. The recent post let me know, someone, most likely a family member, had access.
I wrote in part,
Sending prayers of love, peace, and comfort to Sunshine’s family, her light was so bright, anyone who ever encountered it will never forget that she was here! May God bless you all.
To my surprise, a few days later, graciously, I received a beautiful reply.
Are Virtual Friends REAL Friends?
There is a lot written across social platforms about the inauthenticity of virtual connections. While I am aware that inauthenticity exists on the internet, I enjoy developing great virtual relationships.
The immediate sadness I felt for Sunshine, her husband, her son, parents, and loved ones served as a sure indication of how genuine our connection was.
So yes, even if my relationships are exclusively virtual, I consider them very real.
This sudden loss of my Insta-friend reminds me of how grateful I am for the opportunity to connect with people worldwide through social media. I consider this a privilege of the internet. And I am willing to tolerate the small ratio of frauds that come with this benefit.
I am still feeling the weight of the finality of my last exchange with Sunshine. My heart goes out to her family. And I am even more dedicated to doing my part to continue building genuine community with those I am fortunate to meet here and on other social platforms that I frequent.
I hope my story gives you hope for the beauty that can develop when people are genuinely willing to connect over the interwebs. Mostly, I hope you don’t allow the small ratio of fraudulent ones to make you wary of building friendships online, especially if you desire to.
Well, that’s all for now, thanks for “listening.” 🙂
Until Next Time,
Sending you love, courage and MORE Courage.