Rise of the “Death Apps”

iStock_000013954980_SmallCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

In an attempt to make the prospect of dying less complicated (from a material point-of-view), a new breed of “death apps” promise to take the guesswork out of dying and to make life simpler for our loved ones. But are they missing an important point?

The Guardian is reporting on the new technology which is designed to help people organize their online life into a “bundle” of digital living wills, funeral plans, multimedia memorial portfolios and digital estate arrangements.

“It could be the mother of all personal media accounts, designed to store all of a person’s online passwords in one spot, for a successor to retrieve after he or she dies,” the Guardian reports.

For instance, the Houston-based funeral concierge, Everest, is just one of several new apps which are attempting to streamline end-of-life planning. According to the website, it “partners with a number of large life insurance companies, such as Hartford, Aetna, and Voya who include the Everest service in their Group Life insurance benefit programs” which means the service could be part of an employee’s benefit package.

Cake is another service that allows users to store their last wishes in the Cloud for access by family members later. This can include funeral arrangement details, what kind of health care they want during their final illness, even what kind of legacy they want to leave behind.

SafeBeyond allows users to leave messages for their loved ones after they are gone. Users can also leave messages for events in their family’s life, such as a wedding or graduation or other significant event that will occur after they die. People can even leave a last Facebook and Twitter post which will announce their passing to their online friends.

Even though Google, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook already offer options for users who wish to pass along their accounts to a loved one after they die, these usually come with some kind of limitation.

cemetery“In contrast, death apps help people give their loved ones unconditional control of all of their online accounts by digitally transmitting their account passwords to them, post-mortem,” says the Guardian. “Online banking, digital newspaper subscription and online shopping accounts are all scooped up by death apps, not just social media accounts.”

While reading this article, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one was talking about the real issue when it comes to end-of-life planning – such as where exactly we’re going – heaven or hell  – and what we need to do to get ready for that final passage. For me, it was the “elephant in the room” that begged the question – isn’t it more important to worry about our eternal life than our mortal life?

Regardless of our belief system, what we really need is a “Four Last Things” app, something to repeatedly remind us that 1) we will one day die; 2) we will be judged; 3) what hell is like; 4) what heaven is like.

As Dr. Peter Kreeft says, “even humanity outside the Church instinctively knows something about these four things.”

“Nearly all religions, cultures and individuals in history have believed in some form of life after death. Man’s innate sense of justice tells him that there must be an ultimate reckoning, that in the final analysis no one can cheat the moral law and get away with it or suffer undeserved injustices throughout life and not be justly compensated. . . .”

And because most men know that justice distinguishes the good from the evil, they also know that “after death there must be separate destinies for us . . . . Thus mankind also usually believes in some form of heaven and hell,” Kreeft writes.

Instead of getting reminders about updating our living will, maybe we need a few reminders about how we take nothing with us when we die so maybe we ought not be too obsessed with all the “things” or the “status” we’ve been acquiring. Sort of makes that final grandiose Facebook or Twitter post a non sequitor, doesn’t it?

Instead of a reminder about drafting up our “legacy”, how about a note to remember that we’re going to be judged on how much we loved, not how much we owned. The touch of our love upon another’s life is a legacy that will last forever – and it doesn’t need Cloud storage.

Instead of being reminded about the more morose details of death – the funeral parlors, coffins, crematories, etc. – there’s nothing like a few minutes of meditation on the glories of heaven and everlasting joy to make your casket preference seem suddenly irrelevant.

Sure, all of the material details need to be tended to, but let’s not forget the most important part of death – what happens next.

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