A Personal Reflection on How Hospital Social Media Can Make Meaning from Death

My dad

Three weeks ago I returned from one of the most difficult periods of my life, and I haven’t been ready to blog about it until now.

My dad died after 23 days in intensive care as a result of complications from cancer surgery. He was 85, a former Chicago fireman, a devoted husband to his wife of 60 years, and an involved father in the lives of his seven children in an era when a father’s involvement in caregiving wasn’t the norm.

My family and I will miss him, especially my mom who now struggles with dementia and Parkinson’s, and deeply depended on my dad. 

To the Midwest and home and back

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I arrived on a redeye just in time to see my dad before his surgery. I spent that week caring for my mom while dad recovered in ICU. The day the hospital had scheduled him to be transferred out of ICU, I flew back to the West Coast (after having organized care for my mom).

By the time I landed, dad was back in intensive care. A week later, after a difficult family/physician phone conference, I headed back to the Midwest to spend what turned out to be the last week of his life with him. I was at his side when he passed.

Those memories of the 24/7 bedside vigils are emotional to recall. He had a hard time talking, but interspersed with his requests for more water (I became expert at swabbing his mouth with a sponge), there were important exchanges that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

An experience that affirmed my work

After the funeral, I struggled to get back to my work, wondering if social media use in hospitals was important enough to devote so much time to. It seemed, somehow, unimportant after what I had just been through.

But then there was an experience that actually affirmed the work that I spend so many of my moments pondering. The university where I teach had sent out a notice to my colleagues about my dad’s death. In the email was a link to an obituary that the funeral home had posted on a social media website.

Until I saw the email, the only social media announcements of my dad’s death that I was aware of were family members’ Facebook accounts. When I clicked on the link, I was surprised to see a comment by one of the nurses who cared for my dad.

A nurse’s kind words on a social media website

She wrote, “I wanted to thank you for allowing me to share in a part of [your dad’s] life if even for a short period. I could certainly tell the love and support you as a family had for him. My prayers, and thoughts are with all of you at this time. Please let us know if there is anything I can do for you. Many blessings to all of you.”

Her words were so affirming during a very difficult time. I think so many families experience some doubt after losing a loved one – did we do all we could? That she recognized the love we had for him made a difference to me. She made a difference by making a choice to engage in social media and share her sentiments.

Helping to humanize the hospital

By allowing hospital employees to engage in social media, they can help humanize the organization. And since the two most defining human experiences often take place in hospitals – life and death – it seems appropriate that humans be allowed to share sentiments surrounding those and other life-altering periods, such as illness.

As a nurse, there would not have been too many other ways for her to appropriately contact my family after my dad’s death, but her comment on a community site hosted by the funeral home was both appropriate and meaningful.

So even if I don’t climb into burning buildings to save lives, as my dad did, his death helped reaffirm the importance of the work I do – open up avenues of communication for meaningful conversations – conversations that support, and affirm and heal – conversations that add meaning to life and make meaning from death.

How we help

Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

5 replies
  1. Cristina Nogueras
    Cristina Nogueras says:

    Beautiful post, it really moved me. It reassures me that this is the field that I should strive to work for. May your dad rest in peace.

  2. Kelly Merrick
    Kelly Merrick says:

    Hi Jean,
    I’m sorry to hear about your dad. This was a beautiful post, and how sweet of that nurse to provide such comforting words. Social media really is a powerful tool!



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