In a TikTok video on August 25, Cassidy Pearson, who was using the platform to document her life with terminal cancer, told followers she hoped it was a good day. He spent the last one feeling nauseous, sweating and lethargic. But she was better on this day, and commented on how lovely the weather felt, and how she wished others could feel it too. She told her followers that she would not post every day. That was no longer realistic, she said.
The video was Pearson’s last. On September 9, Pearson’s older sister Casey Metzger posted from her accounting She was told by more than 200,000 followers that the 27-year-old had died.
“I can’t tell you how many times she would cry because she couldn’t believe how many people loved her on this stage,” Metzger said. “Thank you so much for all you’ve done for him.”
Pearson, who was diagnosed with melanoma Six years ago, she used her popularity to raise awareness about skin cancer, but her honesty, her quirkiness and her vulnerability made her account more than an advocacy. pearson, whose username was @ohkaypee, offered a window into what it looks like to die – grief and regret, the insistence that life doesn’t end until it ends.
She posted intimate videos – of a tumor protruding from her small frame, of her decision to enter hospice, how she talked to her 8-year-old son, Hunter, about the inevitability ahead. In the process, she developed a captive community that watched with eagerness and awe as she lived out the last days of her life.
“We need to know our lives matter and we want our lives, our deaths, and our grief to be seen,” said David Kessler, grief expert and author of “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Greef.” . “Our worst fear is dying alone. We’ve always wanted someone to be at our bedside — to know that someone would be there. … What’s new on the Internet.”
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People want to see – in life and in death. Short-form video app TikTok provides an unexpectedly intimate space for users to navigate and narrate experiences with a terminal illness, which grief experts say offers myriad benefits to people on both sides of the screen. . The hashtag #terminalness has nearly 40 million views on the app.
The person posting gains social connections, which science shows can allow them to live longer. And audiences are encouraged to confront existential fears, develop empathy, and even reflect on how to live – facing imminent death and especially being absent.
‘We don’t address death directly’
Pamela Rutledge, an expert in the psychological and social impact of media and technology, said that while people grapple with the unknown of death in many ways, it is made more difficult by Western cultures that sanctify death or hide it. The invisibility of death increases fear.
A century ago, Kessler said, death was visible. The grandchildren saw their grandparents die at home. When he was a boy, Kessler remembers going to school and watching him listen on the street.
“The now dead roam around our cities in white unmarked vans,” he said. “If you want to see death now, you have to see it in a movie or online or on a TV show.”
Like Pearson’s, many TikTok accounts are offering a crude look at dying, the way its pricelessness illustrates the preciousness of life. Many encourage followers to take care of their health. Some accounts are intimate, others are more humorous.
the user @solelenaq shared her perspective on how to appreciate each day: “If I can’t achieve it all I want to say is, ‘Live your life.'” user @kora_the_herbivora She shared a video of how overwhelmed she was with something that even before her cancer diagnosis had gone unmarked — the sensation of warm sunshine on her skin. the user @pheovsfabulous Posted a video about how he spent his life savings when he was given a year to live, only to fall out of the forecast.
Pearson’s mother, TK Dunn, said she was delighted that her daughter opened up on her experience with death, especially how obscure it can be. Pearson never really knew how much time he had left.
“It was the roller coaster of, ‘Am I going to die now? What does that mean? Who do I go to?'” Dunn said. “Our culture doesn’t normalize conversations about death. Death does happen. We act like it doesn’t. If we could start breaking it down, perhaps these events wouldn’t be so upsetting or painful.”
‘One of the greatest ways people can connect is through personal connection’
The Internet may be making death visible again, but it also offers something to the dying – the ability to connect. matters widely.
“One of the greatest ways people can connect is through personal connection,” Routledge said.
research shows people Strong social ties can lead to longer, healthier lives. In contrast, people who are isolated have a 50% higher risk of premature death.
“The ability to connect with people — that level of feedback and that level of support can be very positive emotionally,” Routledge said.
The desire for connection goes both ways. Routledge said that Pearson’s audience was probably fascinated because they wanted the relationship, too. And Pearson gave them that—often telling followers how grateful she was for their support, how much they meant to her.
“If the person who is going through this, the person who is dying, is thanking you for your attention and your participation in their journey, then you are establishing a parasocial relationship in the sense that these people are each other. But get emotionally invested, just like you would with a narrative.”
These tales also give people terrified of death an alternative to the most terrifying story they tell themselves about how they will cope. Everyone makes up stories, consciously or not, about what they can do when death is near.
“You wonder how you’re going to deal with your erasure,” Routledge said.
‘It’s what it sounds like psychologically prepares us’
Kessler said he believes that most of the fear we have is linked to the fear of death. But that fear is not productive. He said that fear does not prevent death. It stops life.
Accounts documenting the incurable disease allow people to face their fears. To go to the shore in a vault, while observing.
“It seems psychologically like it prepares us, or it tells us that when our worst fears happen, we can be okay too,” he said.
In the final weeks of Pearson’s life, she had family time, wrote her son in magazines, took a ride with the police department, and boarded a private jet. She reminded her followers to “don’t be an idiot” and get your skin checked. She was happy that he heeded his advice.
She said in a video on August 11, “I want to take you guys on this journey with me. I want you guys to see it and experience it and learn from it.” “You’re not alone. … We’re doing this together.”