Over the weekend, my friends and family attended my baby shower, virtually and in person. At this moment in our pandemic reality, there are a lot of questions about what is safe, how to ask others about their vaccination status, and how to find some semblance of normalcy. While I once thought a baby shower this fall would be totally back to normal, the realities of the Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy have made it clear that there is still a significant amount of COVID-19 risk in the world. In trying to plan a way to celebrate my pregnancy, I landed on a compromise: We’ll do it both ways.
We threw a virtual Zoom shower for anyone not comfortable coming to a party and an outdoor, in-person gathering for vaccinated friends and family who could make it. It was quite a lot to plan, but it ended up truly being the best of both worlds. Everyone felt safe and happy. I got to hug cousins I hadn’t seen in two years. Friends from as far as Germany Zoomed in to offer well-wishes. I felt loved and like my new baby will be well-supported.
When I suggested including a virtual shower along with the outdoor gathering, I wasn’t just thinking about COVID. I thought about how my generation has spread out so far across the country and the world because of the job market. My closest friends were once all in the Washington, D.C. area, and now we are a disparate group calling New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and other places home. As fun as a baby shower is, it really isn’t worth the cost for many people to book a cross-country flight and hotel for an afternoon of cake and present-opening. But on the Zoom, they didn’t have to miss out, and neither did I.
I was reminded of conversations in my professional life about conferences, training, and other opportunities that required being in-person. Keeping the remote world alive for those with disabilities or financial concerns could be a new and exciting path forward for inclusion. It can keep us closer while we live so far apart. I’m hopeful as we reevaluate so many things in our society, we think about how we can keep our events and celebrations more accessible.
How documenting death is helping other people live.
In a TikTok video on August 25th, Kassidy Pierson, who used the platform to document her life with terminal cancer, told followers she was hopeful it would be a good day. She spent the previous one nauseous, sweating, and lethargic. But she was better on this day and remarked how lovely the weather felt and how she wished others could feel it, too. She told her followers she wouldn’t be posting every day. That wasn’t realistic anymore, she said.
The video was Pierson’s last. On September 9th, Pierson’s older sister Kasey Metzger posted from her account telling her more than 200,000 followers that the 27-year-old had died.
“I can’t tell you the number of times that she would just break down crying because she couldn’t believe how many people just loved her from this platform,” Metzger said. “Thank you so much for all that you’ve done for her.”
Pierson, diagnosed with melanoma six years ago, used her popularity to raise awareness about skin cancer. Still, her earnestness, her quirkiness, and her vulnerability made her account more than advocacy. Pierson, whose username was @ohhkayypee, offered a window into what it looks like to die – the grief and regret, the insistence that life isn’t over until it is.
People want to be seen – in life and in death. The short-form video app TikTok offers users an unexpectedly intimate space to navigate and narrate experiences with a terminal illness, which grief experts say provides myriad benefits to people on both sides of the screen. The hashtag #terminalillness has nearly 40 million views on the app.
The person posting acquires social connection, which science shows may allow them to live longer. And the audience is encouraged to confront existential fears, develop empathy, and even reflect on how best to live – in the face of imminent death and significantly absent it.