Death and bereavement in the digital age

Liza Bernstein itsthebunk@gmail.com
Michael Fratkin michael@resolutioncare.com
Liz Salmi lizsalmi@gmail.com
Jim Rosenberg jrosenberg.work@gmail.com
Alexis Keiner alexis.roberts.keiner@gmail.com

Abstract

In 2016, people from around the world flocked to social media to mourn beloved celebrities, including David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, and Prince.

Meanwhile, for years and on a more intimate scale, individuals have been using (and continue to use) digital tools in creative ways as they experience serious illnesses, the end of life, loss, and bereavement:

-A baby dies suddenly and a mother informs her community on Facebook. In-person and online gathering, mourning, and healing ensue.

-A woman with advanced cancer tweets her illness and decline. Critics in national newspapers blast her actions, but her followers credit her with helping them.

-Cancer advocates die, and people who had only ever known them through Twitter gather online to mourn, celebrate their lives and … heal… and, manage their own heightened fears of dying and death—common emotions that accompany a cancer diagnosis.

-In the face of increasingly corporatized health care, a palliative care physician quits his job to better serve his rural community… he develops a way to help his patients, his colleagues, and himself more humanely tackle end of life issues through a combination of in-person and online video interactions/telemedicine...

-In the span of four months, a husband/father grapples with the progression from his wife’s sudden terminal diagnosis to her death. In the aftermath he develops a way—through a digital storytelling platform—to break down the taboos in talking about end of life and help people address the isolation, confusion, and stress that is such a painful part of the experience.

In this panel discussion, Liza Bernstein, Liz Salmi, Michael Fratkin M.D., Jim Rosenberg, and Alexis Keiner (biographies attached as a separate file)—all of whom have direct personal and professional experience of this topic—will explore the ways in which patients, caregivers, health care professionals, and anyone affected by loss are using and designing digital tools to address death and bereavement.

After each panel member introduces themselves and their personal connections to the topic, the conversation will focus on the impacts of our increasingly connected, digital lives on facing death, end of life and grief.

Questions we will address include:

-How has the digital age impacted death, dying and bereavement?
-What does the ubiquity of social media and digital tools add or subtract?
-How do online communities manage loss—and is it any different from managing loss “in real life” (IRL)?
-Are screens a way to distance ourselves from the realities of death, or can they help us cope? For example, by providing new ways to demystify and attenuate fears; to grieve, commemorate and commune; to create legacy and heal.

This carefully curated panel will bring humanity, dignity, kindness, and a healthy sense of humor to this sensitive but important topic.
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