ReRe Sandalwood, Founding Editor-and-Chief of The SL Parade, takes a look at grief and bereavement in Second Life and in Real Life…
Though many may say that Second Life is nothing more than a whimsical fantasy…a mere computer program designed to offer an escape from the Real World, to look at the Second Life world in this way omits the fact that people often develop and cultivate long lasting friendships with individuals across the world. Further, this mindset unfortunately dismisses the sole purpose of Second Life: to get to know—and hence, bond with—people in a virtual environment free from Real Life nuances and barriers.
If readers think about it, it is simply better to look at Second Life as more than a fantasy. This is because people are capable of feeling a plethora of emotions inworld; this includes love, jealousy, anger, and even grief.
In this sense, there are some pretty realistic dimensions intrinsic in the Second Life inworld experience. One of those realistic parallels is the death of the person behind the avatar. This is because, in one way or another, when the person responsible for creating the avatar dies, the persona that makes the avatar a more realistic and moving being dies as well. This can make for an uneasy realization, especially if you have built an inworld relationship with that person…and especially if you have carried this relationship over into your RL via phone conversations, emails, and even potentially meeting them in person.
Thus, while SL, in some ways presents its users with a fantasy, there is one thing that no one inworld can escape from, and that is death and bereavement. However, at a Real Life funeral, we are able to physically comfort one another during our time of grief. In contrast, Second Life seemingly robs us of this opportunity, more so because the physical touch from another human being can act as a powerful healer, especially during a time of duress.
Yet despite this setback, the beauty and sentiment that can accompany a home going celebration in Real Life can still be there. This is because, if you listen closely to your own intuition, and align yourself with your inner most senses, you can sense others searching for love, comfort and understanding at funeral-based life celebrations such as those planned in Second Life.
Be mindful that grief and loss is an all too real phenomenon in Second Life, just as it is in Real Life. Yet, because many are uncomfortable even discussing the subject of death and bereavement, if you have questions about how a person passed, not to mention how the person lived, etc., many may find your line of questioning intrusive and ungrounded.
However, there is nothing wrong with asking questions, nor is there anything wrong with wanting to better understand how the person behind the avatar lived and passed on. In the same vain, it is important to demonstrate tact when asking questions, and to anticipate that those who are in different stages of the grieving process may not want to talk about the deceased. There may also be a possibility that you will never get any of your questions answered, so if that is the case, it will be important to find other ways to salve your own personal grieving process.
On the other hand, it is important that we are all aware that, more than likely, others were touched by this person’s life, just like you were. Consequently, they may need just as much support and understanding [if not more] than those that were in the deceased innermost circle. With that being said, if you are ready and willing, be willing to talk openly about the deceased. At the same time, be sure to avoid making those that ask questions and search for a better understanding as to how this person lived feel bad and self-conscious. After all, it is pretty normal to search for answers by asking questions, and it is also normal to attempt to gauge others in those questions to build up support and camaraderie–all as a way to gain better understanding and comfort.