How to Cope with the Death of a Facebook Friend

I didn’t manage to meet Elena Zoe Savvides-Doghman in ‘real’ life. We met virtually on Facebook in 2012 and shared a lot of common interests and mutual friends. She loved music, and I enjoyed her inspiring cooking updates from her Paphos restaurant Orexi.

When she shared updates about her treatment for cancer, she showed how courageous she was. She always had a funny comment to make, and a lot of love for her friends and family. Along with many other of her Facebook friends, we offered encouragement when she was down. And shared her joy when she had time to spend with her family away from cancer treatments.

Elena was unfailingly honest in her Facebook posts. She bravely faced pain and the nausea from chemotherapy. Admirably, she always looked on the bright side. Without knowing it, she helped me to deal with my mother’s cancer treatments. In her indomitable way, she was a one-woman support group. Her courage gave us courage. As well as giving and receiving support, Elena inspired us with her positive words. That is, until one of her last posts, a despairing one in mid-December 2016. The doctors had told her she had just a few months left. She said she was sick of waiting and just wanted to die. Elena ‘liked’ my comment saying it was just a bad moment and to focus on the love around her. She ‘liked’ the scores of other comments from her friends, acknowledging their encouragement.

On the 18th of December, I lost touch with Facebook for over a week. My mother and I had to rush to Germany for emergency cancer treatments. The week rushed by in a haze of worry and frantic action. When things calmed down and my mother was stabilised, I finally got back online. On Facebook, I saw the sad news that dear Elena had passed away on December 23rd.

It was not unexpected, but still so saddening to read the news her family posted on her timeline. There was an enormous response from her community of friends. From the torrent of messages on her timeline, I felt that her spirit had touched each person. And then spread its light to many more, shining as bright as her smile.

Coping with the death of a Facebook friend is no less challenging than coping with the death of a friend you’ve known in real life. You miss communicating with them, and feel regret and sadness that they’ve passed on. Their photographs, videos and words stay in your memory. You remember their words, their life events, their precious moments. On so many levels, our existence and relationships are all in the mind. The relationships built on Facebook or in life are real because we believe them to be real, because we live and share them. In the virtual world, there’s a meeting of minds that’s as powerful as a physical connection.

It takes time to get over someone’s death. Time to accept, time to respect, and time to remember. Give yourself that time, don’t dismiss the heartache. Reach out to mutual friends, accept their help just as Elena did. Your Facebook network is just as effective as your real-life network. Families can post information about the funeral, and friends can go to it to say their goodbyes. This brings closure. Support can be offered to family members through FB messages and it really helps them to know they’re not alone. Perhaps the best way to cope is to see FB as a rallying point for the various support actions around someone’s funeral. Helping the family, fundraising if necessary, taking some action to be part of the goodbyes. It helps tremendously to see others share and grieve together.

I’ll always remember Elena’s courage and be grateful for her messages of hope and support. Our communication was virtual, but her character and love were as real as can be.

Social Media Digest is published on and sponsored by the digital marketing communications consultancy and video productions firm Jazz Arts & Communications, written by Sarah Fenwick.