How WhatsApp Eased the Pain of Losing My Parents
A forum for young orphans to grieve together thrives on the world’s most popular messaging platform
My parents both died in the early 2000s, before my 20th birthday. Becoming an orphan long before anyone else you know is incredibly isolating. People who have not had the experience find it hard to understand you; all too often, they’re frightened by the depth of the loss. And it is difficult to find other people who can relate. I never thought that I’d eventually find them on WhatsApp.
Over the past two months, I have chatted daily with about 60 other people in a WhatsApp group chat for young orphans. For the first time in my life, I have access to people who have shared this defining experience and can understand me at a deeper level than most.
The group was set up by London-based charity worker Katharine Horgan, who started the WhatsApp chat after the creators of Griefcast, a U.K.-based podcast about loss, tweeted a request for resources for young adult orphans last December. Horgan’s idea was to use WhatsApp as the platform for a group chat because of its “ease.”
“I’m familiar with it,” she says. “Most people have it. It was the first idea that popped into my head.” WhatsApp is currently the world’s most popular messaging app, with 1.5 billion users in 180 countries across the globe — even more users than the Messenger app belonging to its parent company, Facebook, which has 1.3 billion.
Posting a screenshot of the WhatsApp profile for the group, named “Young Orphans,” to her Twitter account, Horgan invited people to DM her for an invitation to the chat.
Just two months later, the group has grown into a diverse family of young orphans, with members from the U.K., Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and beyond. The group grew quickly at first, as the tweets announcing its creation were shared while Christmas loomed, with all its potential to remind orphans of what we have lost. Now, new members trickle in at the rate of one or two per week.
Part of the group’s success is due to the platform itself. WhatsApp, I’ve realized, is the best forum for finding intimacy among strangers because it allows each user to be as…