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Department: EDITORIAL

Living and dying in a virtual world

Laskowski-Jones, Linda MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, NEA-BC, FAWM, FAAN

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doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000668468.49000.95
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Rituals are important to a culture. They define transitional moments in ways that are known and predictable. They signify rites of passage, times to celebrate, and times to mourn. There is a feeling of both solidarity and comfort in planning and participating, especially in sad or uncertain times when having established tasks to perform provides order and focus. People join together, make human connections, and create shared space and experiences. Enter COVID-19, the great disruptor, to hurl the proverbial monkey wrench into society's most sacred moments.

Over a 2-week period, I was a virtual participant via a conference app in two major family events. The first was a wedding reception. Having no choice but to shelve prior wedding plans due to COVID-19, the couple was married in a local park by a minister as two witnesses wearing cloth face masks looked on. In a testament to the times, the couple posed in their matrimonial attire accessorized by face masks for a small group photo. During the virtual reception that followed, family members congratulated the couple and shared their joy from the safety of their own homes across the country.

One week later, my husband and I sat before my computer again. There was no joy this time as we sadly viewed a beloved family member's funeral. Tragically, this individual died of COVID-19. Only 10 people were permitted to attend the graveside service, including the priest and funeral director. All wore face masks. Although the rite was beautifully arranged, the family carries the burden of knowing it was not the funeral our relative had carefully choreographed in advance for sons and daughters to carry out. As I write this editorial, we anxiously await test results on yet another loved one in long-term care who is now ill after losing a roommate to COVID-19.

I am grateful for the technology that enables these virtual, vital connections, especially the ones between the ill and their families. But the nurse in me cannot help but factor in how this new element of disruption compounds the normal emotions deeply rooted in the cycle of life. This is uncharted territory. Similarly, the grim toll on nurses who must play surrogate family to the isolated and dying is brutally hard. We have much to study and learn as we confront new issues that do not have easy solutions.

Until next time,



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