“They all see dead people—but we (do)n’t want to tell you about it”: On Legend Gathering in Real and Cyberspace

Janet L. Langlois


This essay explores the relationship between traditional and digital legend telling through a comparison of hospice staff’s stories of their patients’ deathbed visions (DBV), online and off. DBV narratives are typically those in which witnesses report that a terminally-ill person seems to speak to or otherwise interact with a person or persons, not seen by others in the room, who have come to take him or her to the “other world,” however defined, shortly before his or her own death. The author experienced a field research crisis when she found hospice staff and volunteers were posting narratives in cyberspace that hospice staff would not reveal in face-to-face interviews, and wanted to know why. The following article reports on the author’s findings, and discusses how ethnographers, traditional and/or virtual, might draw on hybridized legend patterns for more complex and sensitive readings of that storied phenomenon we call death.


deathbed visions, digital culture, ethnography, hybridization, legend

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