This is an essay.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, but we are also an online community. We are not a social network, but ties do eventually develop between some of the more active contributors here, and some of us even know each other in real life. This makes it especially sad when the community loses a member: sometimes this can be through their own conduct, such as by abusing multiple accounts, other times they fall away, on a few occasions they retire rather dramatically, and in even some occasions they leave not only us, but this world as a whole. In each of these cases, even the bad ones, the community suffers a loss and there is often a sense of grief in the community when it occurs.
As a community, Wikipedia is first and foremost a voluntary movement of people who through the gift of their own time are building out an encyclopedia that is free for the world. What does this mean though?
- Voluntary: every community member is free to contribute as much as they like or as little as they like. They are free to stop at any time. They are free to disengage and never come back, or to come back after a break, if they wish.
- Community we are a group of individuals who has come together to build an encyclopedia. We forge ties with one another, and collaborate in this end. We also are self-governing, and can ask individuals to leave this project based on the rules that we have set up for ourselves. If a user wants to leave this project completely with virtually no trace beside what they contributed to our content, we'll usually honour that request, but do not have to. They are free to leave on their own terms, but we are also free to continue on ours.
Dealing with loss in a voluntary community
When a high profile user leaves for what appears to be good, for whatever reason, it is important to first and foremost remember that they are a person with feelings equally as valid as your own. If they have left on bad terms, do not grave dance. If there's a template that could be placed on their userpage and the blocking administrator did not place it, do not feel like it is your place to do so. It isn't. Let them leave in peace, even if the conduct was less than ideal. If they return and evade their block, they will be dealt with, but that can wait until it happens.
If the circumstances are sudden and the retirement is announced in a noticeable way, it's often worth considering whether or not there are circumstances that led to it, and if there's a right way to respond to it on-wiki. Often times there are good reasons why people leave: they could be facing harassment, their mental health could be suffering because of the project, they could have a lot of things going on in real life and Wikipedia just adds frustration to it, or they even could have decided they hate all of us here. In each of these circumstances, making a big deal of the situation is less than ideal. An important part of respecting the person in these circumstances is letting them leave in peace.