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THE GOODS | CYBURBIA

A Chance to Share the Pain of Loss

July 30, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When a loved one dies, friends and family can provide comfort and support. But when you wake up at 3 a.m. and there is no one to talk to about your grief, where can you turn?

For an increasing number of people in this digital age, the answer is: the Internet.

"Every time I see the stories about people miraculously surviving a coma, I wonder why it couldn't be my son."

"I lost my husband of 27 years in November, and since then I feel like half of me is gone."

"I doubt that anyone reading this knows me, or knew Diana, but today would have been her 21st birthday, and I wanted to broadcast her name to the world."

These are all opening sentences in messages left at alt.support.grief, an Internet message group for people who are dealing with loss. It is, as one of its contributors wrote, the newsgroup "nobody wants to join." But for people who are looking for a sympathetic ear, advice or just a place where they can pass some time in the wake of a death, it exists in cyberspace 24 hours a day.

Regulars simply call it Asg.

"Asg has been so comforting to me," wrote Marlene, who lost her son to a drug overdose. "I have met many good friends here who have helped me get through many lonely days."

It's not likely Marlene and the other contributors to Asg will ever meet in person any of the people with whom they trade messages. And being that it's a text-only medium--and not on the Internet's far more flashy World Wide Web, which can feature photographs, graphics, sound clips and even videos in addition to text--it can convey simple messages that are all the more powerful for their lack of adornment.

"We offer a warm, friendly environment to anyone dealing with the various stages of the grieving process," says the Frequently Asked Questions (better known in Internet-speak as FAQ) guide to the newsgroup provided to new contributors. It's currently maintained by volunteer Rebecca Sinclair, who happens to be the author of several romance novels with titles such as "Wild Scottish Embrace" and covers that feature Fabio clones. But the language in the FAQ is straightforward and simple.

"Alt.support.grief is not a place for the lovelorn," it says, and it is also "not a place for students to request feedback for school papers/projects. We are people dealing with various aspects of grief, we are not laboratory animals."

It's a place where people can express anger and thoughts they can't share with friends. Robb wrote that he finds himself "feeling bad" about the recent progress in drug therapies for AIDS. "This is wonderful news to be sure, but 10 months too late to do any good for my partner and best friend Michael."

Cindy, whose husband died, wrote that she turns down invitations to social functions if married friends are going to be there. "I just don't think I can go and watch them all happy with their lives and each other. It's so hard to be with couples when I'm no longer a couple and don't really know what I am."

And Vickie, who lost two sons, complained about remarks made to her that unintentionally caused pain. "I found it very hard when people would say, 'they were in a better place.' I didn't want them to be in a better place, I wanted them to be with me."

Not all the messages are this powerful or enlightening. Some express sentiments that would be more appropriate to a greeting card. Others spout wisdom in the manner of self-improvement gurus.

But for those who are hurting, or those who want to know how to help someone who is, there is much here that touches the heart.

"I will never forget how much I appreciated my best friend coming over and making me a cup of tea," said Vickie. "It was absolutely the best, most perfect, simple gesture. She was there for me, and that's all I needed."

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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