— Skype Dying

February 5, 2013 at 5:57 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

My friend Melissa is trying to muster the energy to broadcast her final days – on Skype. For seven years, she’s endured ALS. Her brother emailed friends last week to alert us that she’s reached the end of her life.

“Melissa’s greatest wish is to say goodbye to the people who have meant the most to her, ” he wrote.

Melissa’s use of technology to keep love flowing both ways has taught me much about the power digital ministry. I met her at America Online, where she consulted for an executive with whom she had worked years earlier at another company.

Symptoms began with paralysis in her fingers. She adopted technology that nonetheless let her communicate through email and social media. Her abilities declined rapidly but she kept pace, acquiring technology and other services to maintain as much independence as possible. She bought a souped up $30K wheelchair. She spent money she had made in the technology world to remodel her home to accommodate a failing body.

Like so many women who have made some money in technology, Melissa used it to protect her family. In this case, she tried to ensure that she wouldn’t be a burden to it. Other women have spent millions to save the lives of family members both close and distant. The money made years ago, in many cases, is nearly gone and these women, now age 50+, are less prepared financially for their frail years than individuals who’ve worked for the government or in other positions that still offer pensions.

To be sure, men in technology have directed their fortunes to helping family, friends, non-profits and those less fortunate. But the published stories of largess and obscene spending in the world of technology are often about macho displays and the arrogance of the technology world.

There are, however, many stories of love and gratitude behind the dollar signs. [Coincidentally, for the first time in recorded history,  an individual has fallen off the Forbe’s magazine billionaire list because of philanthropy. JK Rowlings, the creator of all things Harry Potter, and a woman, lost the big “B” status because of her charitable contributions.]

Melissa is mustering the energy to Skype her goodbyes from the hospital. In the meantime, her brother is encouraging friends to make YouTube videos addressed to her.

I’ve been considering what I’ll record for her. I’ve checked to see how others have said words of goodbye on YouTube. Search for “dying” on it.  You’ll find mostly bands performing songs with death-related words in their titles or lyrics. There are relatively very few publicly visible videos of last goodbyes.

Death is mostly entertainment online and has yet to manifest publicly as a sacred form of presence. There are undoubtedly many private instances of Skype sessions and online videos of shared dying.

It’s easier to communicate with the dying, no matter where they live in the world, more now than ever before. But it is still too easy to treat them with dispatch, which is how the technology manipulates many of our relationships.

Melissa didn’t treat her friends with dispatch. She affirmed our lives. In her final moments, this is the gift her life is imparting to many loved ones and friends. Her friends choose to be present with her online and offline to affirm her life as well.

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