Friday, July 17, 2015

The weekend read: Staying connected with my sister at the end of her life

We talk a lot about authenticity and immediacy and real-time in social media and communications, writ large. But for my money, you can get all of that at the bedside of someone you love who is dying too soon. For me, I found it at the bedside of my big sister Elaine, who died yesterday.

The blogger at left, her big sister at the middle, and the
universe's best nurse and younger sister at right. Our
brother was not yet on the scene.
Truth be known, my older sister and I went through some long years of poor or little or no communication, either by her choice or mine. When we reconnected, it was in that careful way that some organizations have when, say, trying Twitter for the first time: Tentative, crafted, careful.

Then, over time, we relaxed into being ourselves again and together. We could joke and poke and tease, support and listen and forgive. After all, this was my first friend, the person who, aside from our parents, knew me for longer than any other living creature. There were things that only the two of us knew or experienced...and there was little I could do to fool her, even at the end. That was a bit like a security blanket, familiar, warm, beyond reproach, a safe place. It's the same feeling your readers and users get when you've built a real relationship with them online.

My sister embraced a lot of what can be had and done online today, but was an artist when it came to handwritten notes and emails that felt like handwritten notes. And in the last few months of her life, spent mostly in hospitals and nursing homes, we had to find many ways to stay connected from afar, in between visits. It will not surprise you, perhaps, that my sister managed to get her nursing home to give her access to the staff wifi (why not available to all?) so that we could share email notes, videos, articles and more. We had long phone chats. I recorded things--readings, messages--and sent them via email or text. We talked by phone, and at her bedside. And I became more like her in sending handwritten notes, along with gifts and flowers. We also have a marvelous younger sister and brother, and all of us tag-teamed the conveying of messages and gifts, by hand, voice, text and more.

But in the end, the mode of communication made no difference. It was the listening that mattered. She told me her stories, and I listened and reflected them back to her. Social media, indeed.

Last night, I let my extended family on Facebook and Twitter know about the end of her life. We are rich in thoughts and virtual and real hugs and support, for which I am more grateful than I can say. We've had a long time to anticipate my sister's death, and yet the news of it feels like a sudden punch in the gut. Connecting and sharing softens that blow somewhat.

My sister took great pride in my consultancy and no matter what we were talking about in these last weeks and months, she wanted to know about the people I was meeting or working with, the blogs, the audience, the work. She often praised me for living and working on my own terms, but she was my model for that. Taking a moment away from our regular weekend read to honor her here seems right to me. I hope you'll use one of the many tools we have at our fingertips to connect in real time with someone you love.

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