When someone dies, they leave behind a footprint. In years past you most likely found old photographs, letters, greeting cards, and maybe gifts that were reminders of the deceased. Nowadays the deceased leave behind extensive evidence of their daily lives through emails, text messages, voicemails, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest posts as well as other forms of social media, and the list goes on and on. What happens to all these tangible reminders when someone dies?

Just last month I realized I never delete voicemails on my iPhone so I scrolled through planning to delete. To my surprise I found five voicemails from my friend who recently died. I listened to each one and it was wonderful to hear her voice. But what do I do now? Do I delete them knowing I will never hear her say my name again? Or, do I hang on to them and put off the inevitable of deleting them at a later date?

A friend mentioned how unnerving it is to see a photo of someone she knows has died on her Facebook page under “People you may know.” When does Facebook catch up that someone has died? The same friend wonders about a Facebook page for a friend who is deceased. It makes her sad every time it shows up and she wonders, “If I “unfriend” her will I seem callous?”

Some of our dilemmas are a different variation of those in the past. For example, what did we do with our address book entries when someone died? Did we cross them out? Do we go through our online contacts and delete deceased friends and loved ones? If we don’t delete them and someone from their home number calls, how will we feel when the deceased’s name flashes as an incoming call?

While it’s a tough decision deciding whether to save or shred letters and cards from the deceased, what do we do with emails? Do we fear that deleting them is obliterating memories of the deceased? Should we print out a copy before deleting them or create an online folder to store them? And how long do we store them?

Videos, photos, and letters bring comfort to the bereaved. Before deleting and thereby destroying visual and auditory memories, it would be a caring gesture to offer them to the bereaved.

We live in a world that explodes with innovation. It might be prudent to decide now how to handle our vast web of communications, as it is only going to get more complex as the years pass.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are available in Amazon's Kindle store.

Image via Robbie Miller Kaplan

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Comment by Mark Moran on August 20, 2014 at 12:22pm

A very insightful article about things past generations did not have to face.  For them it was crossing out an address or removing a number, but it seems more personal now when we have to face deleting numbers, old voicemails, and the ghostly reminder of a FB page. 

Ironically, just recently a friend of mine had met a nice girl.  To his surprise, he later discovered she died on FB.  He did not know the family well enough to be informed.  He was suspect of the lack of return texts or calls.

What do we do with these electronic footprints?  I would suggest, we do not immediately delete them.  But we should try also to avoid torturing ourselves as we listen to them repeatedly.  In time, we can make a better decision, maybe a year, maybe longer, as to whether we should move on and delete it or keep it as a memorial

Keep in mind, everyone is different but we need to realize one thing.  Pictures, movie videos and heirlooms are meant to be kept---not necessarily a happen chance voice mail.  There is nothing wrong in keeping it, but if it becomes an obsession and something that keeps us holding on, then we need to re-evaluate and see if we truly are adjusting to the loss.

Mark Moran, MA


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