Blogging Your Death

by J-Stacknik

Derek Miller was a writer and editor with a degree in marine biology. He wrote about his death in between posting stories on music, photography and pop culture.

“Here it is. I’m dead.” this is how Derek Miller’s last blog post started. Derek Miller was one of the best known and earliest bloggers in Vancouver. When Derek was told that he had cancer he took his fight online. When he found out that his colorectal cancer had become terminal – he published that online too. When he died on May 3, 2011 it was not surprising that a posthumous blog post he’d written in advance went online the next day.

Although a very creepy way to begin a blog post it was how Derek wrote. He was straight forward and didn’t mince words when he wrote about almost all aspects of his living with cancer. After this last post appeared it quickly went viral, drawing eight million hits over the week that followed.

When he found out that he had cancer in 2010 it made sense to Derek to write about it as part of his blog Penmachine. He had already been blogging for about ten years so it just seemed like the natural thing for him to do. He was told at that time that he had a year to live and the 41 year old began preparing to die, blogging about it.

It was in March 2011, less than two months before his death, that Miller wrote in an email about dying online. In that email he said, “I’ve found my interactions with friends, family, acquaintances and even total strangers online much more useful than any of the support groups, therapy sessions and other more traditional ways of processing being a cancer patient.”

Miller wasn’t the only person using social media to help him through the dying process. Men and women of all ages are turning their dying moments into moments in the spotlight. According to Adele McAlear, who runs the website, social media is very beneficial for dying people. “The liberty the internet affords people, to be able to really reach out and be outside of their physical space, be outside their physical body and whatever limitations that body might have – it’s a wonderful thing,” she says.

However internet users have to be cautious. In March 2011 online support flooded in for an alleged cancer patient who was posting on the popular social news website Reddit under the alias Lucidending. He wrote that he was 39 and he told the online world that he had lost his battle with lymphoma and would be ending his life in two days, thanks to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.

The post, titled “51 hours left to live,” garnered almost 10,000 comments. When one user asked how he planned on spending his final hours, Lucidending replied, “I’m going to live. This is as close to travel and meeting new people as I can get now. I’m sorry if that sounds dumb, but this is my world tour.”

The first response to this: “Greetings from Victoria Australia. Glad you could drop by.” The second: “Ireland checking in!”; “Japan says hello.” “Toronto says Eh!” Hundreds more like this followed. Lucidending got his world tour.

Speculation followed: Was he really who he said he was? Was he really dying? There was no real name given, no picture or contact information, some users remained skeptical – including a few who criticized him for not responding to private messages.

“Silence can be a very big problem in the world of social media,” says tech analyst Carmi Levy. “Social media is a bit of an accelerator,” he says. “It speeds up the rate at which we communicate, but it also raises expectations that, if they’re not met, drive speculation.”

This is one of the downsides of using social media in this manner, but on the other hand people are able to reach out more efficiently than ever before. Levi believes that social media is only going to become more and more accessible and become an integral part of our daily lives. “I expect it to literally transform the process of death and dying over the next number of years.”

In the case of Derek Miller he wrote that his openness about cancer had been good for him, good for his family, and good for his friends. It was good for everyone all over the world, he said, including the ones who only know him through his blog.

Derek was able to express his deepest feelings online. In his final post, he wrote to his children, “Know that I loved you and did my best to be a good father” and to his wife: “I loved you deeply, I loved you, I loved you, I loved you.”

Read more:

Derek Miller | Blogging About Dying

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