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Thursday, January 18, 2018
HomeHealthCeteraLife, Death, and Grief in the Digital Age: What Do You Think?

Life, Death, and Grief in the Digital Age: What Do You Think?


by Steven M. Gorelick

At the risk of going off CHMP-topic, I wanted to call your attention to a very provocative, short blog post by the journalist James Sneddon.

I say “off-topic” because it deals, not with health, but with the end of health.  How he asks, is the social experience of death and grieving being transformed in the digital age?  I wrote about one aspect of this issue a while back, but Sneddon raises a different question from a painfully personal perspective.

What is the emotional impact on survivors of the flood of online memorials and tribute pages that now appear so soon after death?

Because death is the constant companion of many of you who are healthcare professionals, I am more than a little curious about how you feel about Sneddon’s point.

I’m torn.  Read it and let me know what you think.

Latest comments

  • This is a very interesting post. I had never thought about it. When does reminders of loss transform into memories we want to recall?

  • At first glimpse, this appears a tough scenero…We lost my father in law recently after a long battle with chronic illness. The funeral home created an on-line eulogy for him, where friends and family could leave their comments, and share their stories. Personally, I found this initially too painful to read, but my husband logged on daily, and took great comfort in the words he read there. The eulogy remains preserved on the website of the funeral home.
    The death experience is unique, and each of us cope with end of life issues in our own way. Technology can only aid that process. For those not ready to see images or read words of those lost, they have the ability to wait until that time when comfort comes from memories. Technology doesn’t get hurt feelings over the wait, but preserves priceless memories…Someday I will log on to the website to read the stories of my father in law-forever preserved due to the wonders of modern technology.

  • It is more complicated than at first glance, isn’t it?

    Our impulse is to remember, to honor. We do it for ourselves and for what we imagine will be comforting to family and friends.

    But sympathy cards can be read and filed, taken out of drawers and perused at chosen moments. On-line sentiments just sit there and, as Sneddon points out, can be accessed unintentionally.

    I am not sure I have ever adequately considered, even when I have felt moved by compassion, whether my posting of a tribute or remembrance was primarily for me or for the people to whom I was reaching out.
    Not that it’s a bad thing to sooth one’s self, but the digital age probably requires more than ever that, before posting, we ask: is the message or photo or other sentiment we are putting online something that we have no problem at all with the friends and family of the deceased seeing immediately?

    Technology comes close to guaranteeing that anything posted will be seen widely and, if we really care about the feelings of survivors, we need to think carefully about the fact that postings remain available in virtual perpetuity.

    It really is true that, while we can choose when and if we visit gravesites, we have very little control over what might pop up on the screen when we press the Google search button.

    This is a tough one.

  • Can’t believe that I had not seen Bruce Felier’s piece until just moments ago:

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