Friday, September 15, 2017

Death & Bereavement In The Digital Age - A Panel Discussion At Stanford #MedX 2017

It's panel eve at Stanford Medicine X 2017.

Over the years, I've convened a few panels here, been a guest on many of them and spoken on the main stage. I've had many a powerfully moving informal conversation in the halls of Li Ka Shing Learning and Knowledge Center, and by the pool of the Palo Alto Sheraton (MedX's ad-hoc after-hours party).

With tomorrow's panel however, I jump straight into the deep end, and come full circle with one of the defining events of my childhood: the untimely death by suicide of my father when I was 4 years old in a family and a society that had perfected the "just get over it and move on" solution to grief and loss. After losing more people than I can count, I have had to unlearn everything that was drilled into me about Loss and figure out how to grapple and play with it in unfamiliar and ultimately much healthier ways. Social media and in particular, my experiences as a member of the #BCSM community on Twitter have been instrumental in helping me on this path.

Envisioning the panel and then working with Alexis Roberts Keiner, Liz Salmi, Michael Fratkin and Jim Rosenberg (who, sadly will not be at Stanford with us tomorrow) to shape it has already taken me on a spelunking expedition to the depths of my soul. Our collaboration sessions lit up those cavernous walls to reveal the most asphyxiating of pain juxtaposed with the most immense beauty. Our shared gallows humor, tears and tenderness got all of us through our preparatory sessions, and I am so proud and thrilled to see our work come alive and share it with the world tomorrow.

Thank you Alexis for being the catalyst, thank you Liz for being the connector, thank you Michael for being the accelerator, and thank you Jim for being the aggregator.

Here is the abstract:

Death And Bereavement In The Digital Age

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 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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