A year ago, I said goodbye to my mom after she completed a long battle with multiple sclerosis.
Looking at the contacts on my phone, I saw her photo, messages, and visual voicemails. We could no longer FaceTime, but was I really supposed to swipe left to delete my mom? This wasn’t a former acquaintance or an ex-girlfriend of mine. This was the history of our parent-child relationship in its digital form.
As many of you know, losing a parent is incredibly difficult, but it can also be extremely tedious and baffling as you navigate what to do with their possessions, both physical and digital.
My siblings and I planned the graveside service and cleaned out her house, all while we continued to grieve. My heart ached, and so did my back! My mother was a children’s literature professor, and over her lifetime, she had collected tens of thousands of beautiful, and surprisingly heavy children’s books.
Then there were her digital devices and accounts which needed to be archived. I thought this might be easier than, say, paying her taxes, which my sister was helping with. I sifted through her personal photos, letters, and the videos she had saved. I responded to her friends' direct messages on her behalf and memorialized her social media profiles one by one. Meta (formerly Facebook) has 2.91 billion MAU worldwide, which means millions of families every month will have to complete 3 different processes to report a death to Meta's different support teams (Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp).
Then I took a look at my Photos app, where I had so many family photos. Later, some would pop up as “memories”, triggering strong reactions. Does Apple know my Mom died? I had years of the thoughtful texts and the words of encouragement she had dictated. She had lost her ability to type years before, but I could tell she was dictating because she used her unique expressions, shared funny memories, and the occasional Czech phrase from what we called our “secret family language”.
I found a voicemail she had left a few weeks prior. She sang happy birthday to me like she had every year prior, but this time it was accompanied by her hospice musical therapist. Normally, I delete voicemails, but this time, I felt nostalgic for the sentimental collector my mom was.
She was one of my “Favorites”. The round profile photo of her smiling at me stacked next to my wife, brother, sister, dad, and my boss. I realized we couldn’t call, text, or FaceTime (her preferred communication method) again. Seeing her photo there was difficult to accept. I swiped left to reveal the red button. Just like that, I deleted my mom as one of my favorites. What a weird interaction I thought. Functionally, it was very easy, but emotionally it was very difficult.