Death in the Digital Age

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This morning I was reading The Cut when I came across an excerpt from the soon-to-be released memoir from Erin Lee Carr. Erin is a filmmaker and the daughter of David Carr, the storied NY Times reporter and one of my journalism heroes. In the excerpt, Erin details the day her father died suddenly in 2015. In the midst of the chaos and grief left behind a sudden death, she also had to grapple with the unexpected, unwelcome publicity that fell upon her and her family like an avalanche just mere minutes after viewing her father’s lifeless body in the hospital.

I could barely breathe as I read her words, on this day of all days. The 19th anniversary of my mother’s sudden death. Like Erin, I remember distinctly getting the call that something happened and I needed to rush to the hospital. Like her, I remember the terrifying, disorienting trip to said hospital, and the crush of pain and disbelief upon arriving and finding your parent is gone. Even after all these years, I can still remember exactly how it felt–the unrelenting, unbearable agony.

In that first year following her death, I cried all the time. I was terribly depressed, as one would expect. Nothing in my life felt right. I was unmoored, lost without the person who’d been my guiding light, my rock, the one I knew I could always depend on, no matter what.

Time has dulled and shaped my pain. I don’t cry over her so much anymore. My grief isn’t so immediate–it’s manageable. Sure, it still surprises me sometimes, but for the most part, I have it under control. And the events of that horrible day 19 years ago have gotten blurrier. While I can still feel the terror and despair as acutely as I did in those moments, the memories of that day are foggier and broken–chunks of time rather than a full mental narrative. There’s actually some comfort in that, too, as it makes it more difficult to replay the events of that day over and over in my mind–these are moments I’d rather not relive.

As I read Erin’s words, I couldn’t help feeling so terrible for her having to deal with such a loss in this digital age, where her phone dinged every couple of seconds with texts, social media posts and calls. I can’t imagine the added stress of all of that on top of the pain of processing your parent’s death.

I sometimes feel lucky that my mom died before we became so digitally connected. I don’t have to worry about electronic reminders of her loss haunting me–there’s no abandoned Facebook profile or dormant Twitter feed to obsess over. I didn’t have to answer a mountain of texts or DMs after her funeral. Instead, I had the quaintly analog task of mailing paper thank you cards provided by the funeral home. Sure, I got tired of licking envelopes, but it was the kind of activity you can do to zone out and take your mind off what’s really going on.

A lot has changed in these past 19 years. But one thing is still exactly the same–I miss her, every single day, so very much.