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 Improving End-Of-Life Options For Residents

A new website offers help to residents who have terminal illnesses and want to leave a legacy for loved ones.
Karen Everett Watson

 Gerontologist, blogger, and journalist

​Everyone knows that death is inevitable, but for those with terminal illnesses, that knowledge brings urgency to be remembered beyond life, and for those left behind, there’s a deep desire and need to connect with that departed loved one. David Levey saw that need embodied in a small child just after her mother had been buried.  
 
“This little girl was crying uncontrollably that she wanted her mum,” said Levey of the United Kingdom. “Her dad, also devastated, had to tell her she couldn’t because her mum was dead.”

A Place To Post Their Words

Levey said this was a life-changing experience for him and the seed for a website known as Immortum—A Memory Box Like None Before that he and business partner, Pankaj Goel, created on a joint venture basis.
 
Levey credits Goel for the technical success of the site and said his partner “is a man of great insight with profound technical abilities that were essential to this project.”
 
Goel’s background is in the corporate banking sector, but after the financial collapse, he questioned if he was in the right business, doing the right work. “I felt had skills that could help make an impact to the lives of millions of people around the world,” he said. “(Then) David approached me with the story of a little girl who would grow up without ever getting a ‘Happy Birthday’ message from her mother, I knew that I had found a direction. I wanted to do something to put a smile back on the faces of millions of children like that little girl. I wanted to help people cope with the most difficult times of their lives. It was then that Immortum came to be.”
 
Immortum is dedicated to patients who have terminal illnesses as a place where they can post their words, both private and public. The site is fully integrated with Facebook, and the users can choose when their messages will be sent to their intended recipients.
 
Public posts will appear on the Facebook pages of the users, as well as in their own journals. Unlike Facebook alone, their posts will not disappear into cyberspace but remain visible, perpetually; they are also searchable.
 
Joining Immortum is free for anyone wishing to use it, and there is no limitation of its use. Both Levey and Goel are adamant that there will never be a charge. “It’s not fair that only the rich and famous have their words immortalized,” Levey said. “Everyone should have that right.”

Forum For End-of-Life Issues

Levey said the website also has a forum for discussing end-of-life issues, a place for a Life Journal and one for delivering messages after death (Postlife Journal). All entries created in the Life Journal are automatically private and pre-populate into a user’s blog. The users decide who sees each of their entries by deciding which message they wish published and when.
 
The Postlife Journal works this way:
1.      The user selects a minimum of two trustees—from their Facebook friends.
2.      They can write and select dates in the future when they wish a person (or persons) to receive the messages.
3.      When the user passes on, it is the role of the chosen trustees to activate the account.
 
Levey notes that every active user needs two others to assist.

Brings Awareness To Advance Directives

Nathan Kottkamp, a health care attorney and founder of the U.S. National Healthcare Decision Day (NHDD), said the forum capabilities of Immortum will be a valuable tool. NHDD is dedicated to making Americans more aware of their need for advance directives for their health care preferences, as well as other life issues.
 
“I serve on several hospital ethics committee where, on almost a weekly basis, we have to deal with the issue of having to make choices about health care for patients who never had a conversation with their loved ones about their wishes, much less provided any written documentation,” said Kottkamp.
 
“Immortum is yet another tool that will enable people to convey their wishes to loved ones, whether it is through written messages, video, or otherwise. It’s a great concept to harness social media for this much-needed activity that far too many people fail to do—often with terrible consequences.”
 
Kottkamp believes that Immortum’s global appeal will be a powerful way to spread information on issues concerning death and medical directives.

Leaving A Legacy

The therapeutic effects of memory boxes and life stories have long been recognized by palliative care experts. It gives people who are dying a tool to express their emotions and a way to be remembered by their loved ones.
 
According to Levey and Goel, this can be especially important to those leaving young children behind. They want to know that their children will know who they were.
 
“The parent can leave their children advice for living and even their views on life,” said Levey. “It’s a way to leave a living legacy.”
 
Levey said one woman has left a letter to be delivered to her daughter after she is married. A father left clues to be sent to his now young son when he is older. These clues will lead him to a buried “treasure box” that the father hopes will be both meaningful and fun to the son when he is grown.
 
Goel hopes to enhance the site with input from users, as the needs are made known. “The site is in its infancy right now,” he said. “There are major releases planned that would provide new social media-enabled tools to charities or professionals working in palliative care industry to support people near end of life. We are seeking such organizations at this moment so that we can give away solutions to help make them more efficient without any cost to them.”
 
“If Immortum can relieve any stress to those suffering from terminal illnesses and provide insight to their friends and family, on any level, it will be a huge success,” Levey said.
 
Go to the website at: www.immortum.com. To follow the site on Twitter, go to: www.twitter.com/@immortum1.  
 
Karen Everett Watson is a gerontologist, blogger, and journalist based on Sacramento, Calif. She can be reached at Watson@softcom.net.  
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