Most of the people we meet in Second Life are known only through pseudonymous identities. Over time, relationships from casual acquaintance to romantic love develop without the knowledge of human names, ages, genders, professions or places of residence.
The pseudonymity of Second Life allows some people to share very intimate thoughts, feeling and desires that are typically hidden from Physical World friends and loved ones. Although the initial feeling of safety allows such shielded aspects of the Self to be exposed, it also creates a significant level of emotional vulnerability. When a close pseudonymous relationship is terminated, the abandoned partner is likely to go through a period of significant grief that spills into his or her human life.
In addition to separations that are not very different than human "break-ups," sometimes an avatar disappears completely from the virtual world without a trace. These situations can be very hard on the ones left behind because of the difficulty in finding a sense of closure. The vacuum of information can be filled by echos of unhealed trauma that can go all the way back to earliest childhood. Intense waves of emotion such as fear, despair, anger and desperation can wash over the ones left behind.
Since many people keep their Second Life secret from human friends and family, there is often nowhere to turn for support in the Physical World. Unfortunately, the informal support of virtual friends, no matter how well meaning, is usually not up to the task of substantively helping someone move through their grief process.
It occurred to me that it might be useful to create some sort of virtual ritual to help those left behind find some closure when avatars leave. Something like a wake or Shiva. Friends could share memories of the departed and share time together reflecting on the nature of virtual relationships. Perhaps there could be some sort of symbolic burial, cremation or de-rezzing.
Has anyone heard of this type of ritual being performed in Second Life? Any ideas on other elements that might be useful?