The subconscious desire we have to release our emotions can often manifest itself in peculiar ways. We have all seen the movie clichés play out, like the overworked wall street executive venting to a lady of the night, or the bar patron spinning the woes of their life to the bartender. Movie clichés aside, people need a cathartic release for the emotions and struggles they are facing in life, especially when dealing with loss. With the advent of the internet, finding solace for your grief has become more practical than ever. The ability to share the problems you are facing, anonymously or not, has dramatically changed the self-help landscape and opened new avenues of self-expression.
The Rise in Popularity of Online Grief Forums
The need and desire to express our emotions is evidenced by the rise in popularity of grief forums and chat rooms in recent years. What is even more fascinating is the specificity of some of these forums, such as Mom’s Halo - a support forum for people who have lost their mother- or Parents of Murdered Children. Millions of people participate and actively post their stories on grief forums; we spent time surveying their activity to find out why.
Here is a list of the active grief forums which were surveyed:
- Web Healing
- Grieving Forum
- Grief Healing Discussion Groups
- The Light Beyond
- Healthful Chat
- Rainbows Bridge
- The Tree of Awakening
- Net Mums Loss and Bereavement
- Health Board Grief and Loss Message Board
How Grief Forums Categorize Topics
Forums will usually have multiple categories that people can post in as a way of focusing discussion and helping members navigate the site. The five most common categories we noticed include the death of a parent, child, spouse/partner, pet, and loss to suicide. Of the forums listed above, three have sections dedicated exclusively to religion or spirituality. Every single forum also has a moderator, or sometimes multiple, depending on the size of the forum. The moderator’s responsibility is to stir up discussion topics and maintain order on the forum by upholding the forum rules. Moderators also keep the forum environment safe and positive by banning members who are using abusive or foul language.
Engagement of Grief Forum Users
Over 3,300 discussion threads are posted every month among the forums listed. On the three most active forums, every post receives an average of at least two replies from other members. A trend common among grief forums is the substantially higher amount of engagement in the loss of a child section of the forum. On the Web Healing forum, there are 27,649 posts related to child loss while the next most engaging topic with 7,298 posts is about the loss of a spouse. This trend is mirrored elsewhere such as Grieving Forum which includes 76,471 posts related to child loss while the next most engaging topic, the loss of a spouse, comes in second with 39,887 posts.
This large disparity in engagement between topics uncovers something rather obvious, that the death of your own child is a unique and particularly difficult kind of grief. Most of the larger forums allow members to write their ‘Angel Date’ beneath their profile name, indicating the date that their loved one died. We noticed that a large majority of the posts in these forums are not from bereaved parents who have lost their child in the last year, or even in the last ten years. Rather, most of the members actually experienced the death of their child over 30 years ago.
In forums like Web Healing and Grieving Forum, it is not uncommon to see members with upward of 1000 comments. Judging from members’ past post history, it is apparent that some of the members are very active, taking on supportive roles for newer members who may have recently encountered tragedy. The high engagement rates of members are highly indicative of the importance of these forums to people, not only as an outlet for grieving, but also the role these forums play in connecting people who have been through similar tragic situations. We should note that the support and advice you can expect to receive on forums does exist elsewhere. Organizations such as Open to Hope and The Dougy Center offer fantastic resources for people dealing with grief as well as several helpful blogs including Hello Grief and Safe Passage Urns.
Grief Forums Take the Ride with You
Grief is not something you can get over in a day. Grief lingers on, constantly in the back seat of life, revealing itself at the most inopportune time. Time may heal all wounds, however, the timeline of this journey is far from direct. Depending on the relationship you had with the recently deceased, grief can sometimes go unresolved for your whole life. Forums are so useful for the bereaved because they are long lasting fixtures that people can rely on for support. We spoke with the webmaster for Grief Healing Discussion Groups, Marta Tousley, and she pointed out that often knowledgeable and active forum members will be promoted to moderators to ensure that the forum continues to live on. In this way, you can expect to meet individuals who over time you may slowly get to know on a personal level through online interaction.
Finding Support Outside of Your Social Circle
Confiding in someone close to you can be important to the healing process. However, many people feel more comfortable cathartically expressing themselves to people who are not in their circle of friends and family. There are numerous reasons why this may be the case, including being worried about feeling alienated for expressing their grief, or seeing other friends and family moving on from their grief while you’re still emotionally distraught. For these reasons, many people prefer reaching outside of their immediate circle of friends and family while grieving.
The end-result of social media and the internet is a much more connected world. The connectivity provided by the internet propagates a variety of utilities including grief support. Take the opportunity to visit a forum and see if it’s the right place for you to foster emotional growth.
Sarah Giavanio works at Safe Passage Urns, a company dedicated to providing the best information for funeral planning and also selling one-of-a-kind cremation urns to memorialize a loved one. Safe Passage Urns is very mindful of the environmental impact we invoke which is why starting in September of 2018 we will be planting a tree for every single urn sold, to help offset our environmental impact.