Dying Alone: Tools for Keeping in Touch in an Era of Pandemic Dying
Family members are often not allowed at the bedside of a dying loved one during a pandemic. This brings up challenging emotions for both the ill person and their families. Connection is difficult, but not impossible. While this is a very challenging time, here are some suggestions that can help foster connection. (Before implementing any of these suggestions, please check with your hospital or care center regarding their policies and protocols.)
o Friends and family members can send letters, cards, and meaningful mementos to the dying person’s room. While they may not be able to be there in person with their loved one, these physical reminders of love and connection can provide tangible comfort.
o Use your smartphone or other device to record a message from your patient to their friends and family. As with any of these suggestions, look for familiar apps first, utilizing the technology you have; don’t try to download and learn new apps during a stressful time unless that’s the only option.
o Encourage friends and family to record an audio or video message for their loved one. These can be created using a smartphone, iPad, or your laptop to record a video, and can even be sent via text. Hearing is often one of the last senses a dying person loses, so recording an audio message is a great way to let a loved one know you love them.
o If assistance is available, help the patient connect with their loved ones via real-time video such as Zoom, Facetime, or Google Hangout. Physically seeing someone you love—even on a screen—often enhances the sense of connection.
o Smart home speakers offer a way for families to keep in touch without relying on staff or outsiders to orchestrate. Devices such as Amazon’s Echo or Alexa, or Google Home, allow family and friends to keep in touch inside palliative care centers, nursing homes, and hospitals—anywhere someone is isolated and ill during the COVID-19 pandemic. These devices are affordable and fairly easy to install. Once set up, these smart speakers have a “drop-in” feature, which would allow friends and family to check in on their loved one anytime. Think of it like a high-tech walkie-talkie: conversations can happen without an intermediary. This could allow people to not—strictly speaking—die alone. These do rely on access to the internet in one’s room, so check with your facilities resources.
o A Sacred Passing: Death Midwifery and Community Education has a wonderful resource online for dying in the COVID-19 pandemic era that is helpful for the dying, and especially for the caregiver, along with some valuable healthcare resources.
While nothing replaces human touch and connection, virtual options can create a kinder and more connected end-of-life experience. For more ideas on how to use technology to bring the family to the bedside, check the Helpful Resources section.