Life and Death in the Digital Age

As the world becomes a more digital place, we cannot forget about the human connection

Adam Neumann

After my father turned 70, I worried every time the phone rang. At that time, I believed that 70 was the beginning of old age.* And we all know what happens to old people. At some point, they die.

You know how everyone says that worrying is a waste of time? It turns out that they’re right. If I had listened to them, I would have saved myself 21 years of worry.

As he aged, my father, who I always called “Daddy” or “Daddyo,” protected his independence fiercely. He lived alone with his beloved dog Lui, and even drove at the ripe old age of 91. His favorite pastimes were patting Lui, reading, sharing meals with his younger brother and sister-in-law who lived nearby, and strolling the aisles of Walmart.

Daddy didn’t hear well, even with his hearing aids, so talking on the phone became impossible. My Aunt Pat suggested Skype, which turned out to be a godsend. Daddy couldn’t hear me any better online, but at least I was able to see that he wasn’t “getting it” so I could repeat things for him.

Daddy and I Skyped every Sunday. About six months ago, I noticed that he looked a bit gaunt. He admitted that he hadn’t been feeling well and that he had no appetite. Initial doctor’s visits and medical tests didn’t reveal anything, but shortly thereafter my Uncle Curtis, who is a doctor, called to let me know that my father had been admitted to the ER.

That hospitalization was relatively brief, but others soon followed.

He was admitted for the last time on June 25.

On the morning of July 2, Uncle Curtis sent me a text saying that my father was dying. Uncle Curtis and I exchanged several brief texts that allowed me to participate in my father’s last moments even though I was 605 miles away.

During the past half year, especially immediately before and after my father’s death, I drew considerable strength from the wonderful people in my sangha (Buddhist spiritual community). They supported me in person, by email, text and phone.

I also was comforted by total strangers: the members of a Buddhist prayer request group on Facebook. Hundreds of these members of my digital-sangha prayed for my father each time he was ill. When he died, they prayed that he be reborn into the Pure Land. Some even submitted his name to their temple’s monthly powa (prayers for the recently deceased) list.

I sent an email to my friend Venerable Benkong to tell him that my father had died. He and his translation team, who belong to a different Buddhist tradition and are located in China, Taiwan and the U.S., also offered powa prayers for my father.

During this extremely difficult time, I am grateful for phones, texts, emails, Skype and social media. For in the hands of family, friends, sangha and kind strangers, they continue to communicate love and support.

*Now that I’m 60, 70 doesn’t sound so old to me, though I am even more acutely aware that everyone has an expiration date.

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