Seeking Solace through Technology during Bereavement
Still hearing the voice of a loved one who dies often proves comforting.
Bill Pence recently shared a story from the last months of his daughter’s life when her doctor asked gently, “What is your greatest fear?” This mother of two young children didn’t hesitate as she responded, “that my children will forget me.” Her answer gave this grieving father a gift as he saw a tangible way he could help Molly as she endured the ravages of metastatic melanoma. A Cal Tech graduate, he said, “Honey, your kids are growing up in a world of computers, websites and virtual images. We can put your voice on a website and you can leave them your thoughts and messages on anything…on friendship, college, dating or anything kids are curious about. I will take care of the rest. I can do it for you.”
He told me, “I imagined my grandchildren waiting anxiously for fresh messages to pop up on their private website, a multiyear stream of reminders of their mother’s love, like getting loving phone calls several times a year, insurance that they would never forget her.’ Molly understood and said, “Let’s do it.”
For the last weeks of her life, they collaborated with a list of questions she thought might be important some day for her son, four-year-old Max and eight-year-old daughter Remy. They chose 63 questions and sqribbled them on index cards. For an hour or so in the afternoons, boosted by oxygen and Fentanyl, his daughter was comfortable and alert enough to work on their project.
Questions like: “How do I be a good friend?”
She responded, “Be kind, consider their point of view. Don’t gossip. Be trustworthy. Be fun!”
“Will you be watching over me?” Her response? “I’m not sure. But I believe in Heaven. I believe I’ll be with you aways. When you need me, hold still, listen and maybe you will hear me. And also listen for yourself–the answers are within you.”
Molly directed a long answer to her daughter for the question, “How were we alike?” and mentioned their shared love of animals, reading, and “dress up.”
Her father, who attended grief groups after her death and found solace in writing, eventually wrote a book called Love Stays, available on Amazon. In an essay, he explains how healing this project has been. “My love for Molly was always manifested in actions. Loving deeds were easier to finish than long sentences. I hung shelving for her stuffed animals, taught her to drive a stick shift, carried her bags and showed her New York. The love stays as I finish my last promise to her. Since her death at 39, I have edited and posted a half dozen of Molly’s messages. I choose a photo or two to post with her words–she is close by, almost touching my shoulder. I smell the coffee she loved. I ask her ‘Which message goes next?’ and I listen.”
The Value of Voice Memories
“A voice recording can help people deal with their loss,” believes Dr. Holly Prigerson, a professor and grief researcher at Harvard Medical School, quoted in an October Associated Press article by Tom Coyne. “The main issue of grief and bereavement is you have lost connection with the one you love…You pine and crave than connection.”
This resonates with persons who lose someone suddenly and often find themselves listening to earlier voice mail messages and greetings. In a future blog, I’ll include information on how important it is to transfer such prized phone messages to a permanent recording. Unfortunately, phone carriers often erase such messages during upgrades, causing immeasurable grief.
In what ways have you found technology a source of solace, if any?
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