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The role of social media in end-of-life conversations

We often turn to social-media forums such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to share the important milestones in our lives with family and friends. So, it may come as no surprise that an increasing number of people are now using these venues to reach out to others for support, comfort and insights as they confront the passing of a loved one, or even their own death.

Today, a story from The Atlantic discusses some of the ways that our social-media lives are changing our perceptions about, and approaches to, death. From the piece:

Social media support networks tend to enable more frequent and lower-stakes conversations about dying than traditional hospital support groups, which helps stave off the sense of isolation that usually accompanies life-threatening conditions, says Alicia Staley, a three-time cancer survivor and co-founder of the weekly tweetchat Breast Cancer Social Media (#BCSM). During Staley's most recent treatment, she found herself alone in a hospital bed at 3 a.m., in pain and scared. “Any of my west coast friends up?” she tweeted, and spent the next hour and a half talking through her worries with her followers. In the morning, a nurse told Staley she looked a lot better than the night before.

“It's hard to explain that kind of comfort,” says Staley. “When you create this virtual community, it's great because you get a glimpse into people's everyday lives. You see the good, you see the bad, you see the ups and downs. It's a great reminder of what life is really all about, how things keep moving, no matter how you're doing.”

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: A conversation guide for doctors to help facilitate discussions about end-of-life careHow a Stanford physician became a leading advocate for palliative careThe importance of patient/doctor end-of-life discussions, A Stanford nurse shares her experience in talking to her aging mother about end-of-life decisions and Grieving on Facebook: A personal story

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