Death is never easy. We’ve all had to deal with the loss of a loved one, a mentor, a co-worker, etc. Today, the Geeks to Go family has to deal with the loss of a colleague, known online as SpySentinel. SpySentinel was a malware helper here, and in the past year became a mod. He was a respected member of our staff, and his death leaves a big hole in our hearts. In real life, he was a college student. He started his college career in the computing field, but realized it wasn’t where his heart was. He changed his major to elementary education, and was looking forward to becoming a teacher and mentor to young children. He would have succeeded, had he had the opportunity.
His death was not the first one I’ve experienced in the online community, unfortunately. It does, however, show how the Internet and online communities change the grieving paradigm. I never met SpySentinel in person, but I spent quite a bit of time chatting with him on IM. He treated me as a confidante, sharing personal history, aspirations, and asking for advice in his personal life. I feel he trusted me, and had I had the opportunity to meet him in person, I think we could have carried on an easy conversation based on what we already knew about one another. I never talked about him to my immediate friends or family; there was no need, because he was one of my virtual friends. It didn’t make his presence less important in my life, but I can divide my friends into two groups: online friends, and real-time friends. There has been some overlap, as I’ve gotten to meet people face-to-face that I had initially only known online, but for the most part, there is a clear dichotomy.
That dichotomy is painfully apparent when a member of the online community passes away. How do you grieve? The other people that you know who are grieving are also virtual friends, and your family doesn’t have the same relationship with the online friend that they would have with a neighborhood, school, or family friend. I’m trying to find my way through this paradigm, and I don’t like it. I feel the loss of SpySentinel deeply, but it’s more abstract to my family. I want to hug the people who knew him, but they’re all online; hugs are just virtual. For now, I take comfort in knowing that there are many of us grieving in the same way, and missing SpySentinel’s presence. I know I’m not alone in my loss. This doesn’t make it easier, but I realize I still have people with which I can share my feelings.
SpySentinel, Matt. rest in peace. Your life was too short, but your impact was felt. You are not forgotten.