• drannetta

End of life in COVID-19 times - tech is our friend!

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

I responded to a shout out on one of the end of life practitioner groups I am involved with on social media today, and the question was about what to do when travel is not advised, but someone is immanently dying. My immediate answer was borrow/re-purpose some tech and offer a virtual presence - this is a win for everyone involved. Video calls support genuine and kind connection, are low cost, and are a perfect solution when someone who is far away does not have much time. I invite you to join me today Gentle Reader in a consideration of virtual presence and end of life.

Tea and an almond croissant on blue and white china
It is fun when both of you make a pretty snack so you can enjoy AND share a social experience on your video call.

OK, so the reality is that travel is tricky in times of epidemic contagion, which is what we are currently experiencing around the world with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) right now. Mass gatherings are discouraged, "social distance" is actively encouraged, and washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds is a sensible sanitary practice. In fact, humming or singing a song while washing hands helps to ensure you meet the minimum time requirement; my personal favourite tune for handwashing is Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive - try it and be fabulous! However, singing along to Gloria is even more fun when immediately afterwards you grab a cuppa and something delicious to both taste and look at so you can 'share' the experience on a video call with someone who is at end of life.

Girl holding a mug of tea. Girl is sitting on a lounge with a dog next to her on the lounge. There is a laptop on the lounge to the girl's right.
The lovely part of video calling someone at end of life is that you can include pets as well as normal aspects of your daily routine - like a cuppa. Video calls are far less expensive than plane tickets and accommodation costs, and can work to the needs of the person at end of life. A short video call every day - or even twice a day - can be a part of both your routines quite easily.

With the high COVID-19 infection rates and uncertainty regarding transmission between people as we currently understand the virus, travel in general is currently actively discouraged. So unfortunately, while we may not want to be at a distance from someone at end of life or actively dying, the fact is that at times like this we may not have a choice in the matter. Video calls are a sensible and safe communication and connection alternative to face-to-face encounters - they enable communication and a genuine connection without risking the spread of any contagions. Don't forget that flu and the common cold are also easily spread through close contact and surface contamination, and neither of these are an issue either when video calls are used to stay in touch with someone at end of life. It is vital to consider the health and wellbeing of carers, support staff and health care workers who may be in regular contact with someone at end of life too, so video calls can help effectively contain the spread of infections from multiple viewpoints.

Father and daughter in the kitchen with a laptop on the kitchen counter.
In these days of 'perfection' carefully arranged as the image to share on social media platforms, a video call (or regular series of video calls) can offer an antidote to manufactured 'beauty'. People at end of life don't have time for games. Show up in a video call and be yourself - have you ever done the dishes while talking with a beloved person whose time is running out? Try it, I guarantee you will both enjoy yourselves.

An often overlooked aspect of video calling is that the very mundane normalcy of your surroundings in the background of a call can help the person you are speaking with feel more 'normal' in their own life. Having a pot of tea at your end, bringing your pet up for a chat on the camera, or walking from one room to another as you move from the home office to the lounge room emphasises to the person at end of life that you are still including them in your regular daily activities. For someone whose 'normal' may well consist of pain management, beeping monitors, and severely reduced social interactions, a video call from another person's home space is a breath of freedom, as well as a reminder that they are still social beings.

As an alternative to doing dishes, but still being creative with tech for longer visits - or when talking is a bit too much of an effort for any length of time - combine your technology access and watch something on TV or a streaming service together while on the video call together. A half-hour comedy show might help both of you to smile and laugh a bit, and the shared experience can be incredibly precious for both of you. If watching isn't the ideal shared experience on the day, go outside for a walk and talk about what you see and how you feel. Sometimes I take Cully for a walk to the dog beach while talking with someone, and I verbally describe every dog that walks past if we are having a regular phone call without video. Mind you, Cully is quite the talker so it is almost always a 'conference call' experience with him at the dog beach.

Cully on the sand near the tideline with a squeaky pig at his feet. Waves are in the background.
If you are really busy on the go why not do a verbal description of what is going on around you? At the dog beach I have phone conversations interspersed with the physical descriptions of the dogs we pass by or stop to meet. #CullyApproved

I am an advocate for virtual end of life doula work, too, so remember that you can have an end of life doula presence even when you live in a remote area, or don't have a practitioner nearby. Family members and friends can vigil with their loved one remotely, and still be a part of the end of life and dying process. Long distance/virtual presence options at end of life mean that you can plan a trip for a funeral at a later date and avoid the high costs of last-minute travel. Virtual funeral/memorial options also mean that in times of travel bans - such as we see now for COVID-19 - everyone can still be connected and a part of rituals and the personal network of those present and involved with death and subsequent mourning.

If you would like to know more about how to swiftly and effectively include distance contact into your end of life planning please email me at to arrange an appointment. I am an end of life consultant and doula who is incredibly good at coming up with creative solutions for my clients. Let's talk. And don't forget to wash your hands!

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