A couple of months ago, I dropped my phone and the screen cracked. I’d had the phone for 2 years and was planning to upgrade for a while, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. That day, I made the decision to go into the store to upgrade to the new, even more sleek version with an impeccable camera that captures detail like no device I’d ever owned.
But what that meant is that I had to transition from the phone I got when my dad Moses was still alive, this thing had been with me through the most impossible time in my life.
I used it to email a grief therapist weeks before he died when I had an inkling that things might not turn out too well.
I relied on it to call from a train station across the country to rebook my flights so I could see him as leukemia relentlessly ripped his health from his hands.
I jotted down a poem in my notes app while sobbing on another train knowing my dad would be dead within days.
I texted my boss and posted on Facebook from it after I found out my dad had died, promptly putting it in airplane mode to avoid the inevitable flood of text messages and calls I’d receive when I least felt like receiving them.
And yet, that phone was also there when I took it off of airplane mode, when I received more than 150 condolence comments, texts, and calls, people reaching out to remind me I was still loved, remembered, and supported beyond belief.
As I was forced to combat when I decided to upgrade my phone a year and a half after my dad’s passing, that phone was home to hundreds of text message conversations with my dad. It was home to his voice, in the form of his quirky, caring, positive but funny “dad texts” and his voicemails.
Even a year and a half after his passing, I was overcome with emotion as I read through the texts, taking screenshots one by one and cementing their life beyond the comfort of my fragile phone. I exhaled after 100+ screenshots and voicemails were taken and backed up on my computer for safekeeping. I exhaled even more when I realized I’d get to keep my old phone rather than trading it in for the new one.
As tough as they are to digest, I don’t know where I’d be without the digital breadcrumbs.
Let me be clear. They are no replacement for my dad. I will never hear his voice in the same way pushing me to believe in myself, and reminding me that I am enough. I will never hear his humor or laugh with him in the same way, or get a thoughtful but gentle text from him when i’d go too long without calling, or when he knew I had a rough day. I, like others who are grieving their own losses, will continue to have a slightly bittersweet (usually bitter) feeling when others talk about the time they have with their dads or, even worse, not giving their living, breathing dads the time of day.
I am only 26 years old now and, if I am fortunate, will live a long life, but it will forever be a life without a living dad.
The digital breadcrumbs are a reminder of that loss but they are also a reminder of my dad’s life.
In January 2018, shortly after the year of my dad’s death ended, I remembered that I made a recording in October 2015. I was constantly pushing my dad to write a book about his life and lived experiences and, when I visited home for a few days in October 2015, sat down with my dad for an hour to record an interview with him that I was hoping to transcribe as his “first chapter”. What resulted was a 41 minute audio recording and a transcript of me chatting with my dad about his life growing up in the Civil Rights Era in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
In March 2018, on the one year anniversary of my dad’s death, I finally got the courage to listen to the recording for the first time since 2015 and, of course, since my dad died. I’m listening to it for the second time since my dad’s passing (and sobbing) as I write this post.
That recording, the text messages, the voicemails, and the other digital breadcrumbs I have left of my dad help me better remember him. They bring me back to the moments that those breadcrumbs were laid – when I recorded with my dad, whenever he thought to text me, whenever he called and left those voice messages. They help me feel connected to him in new ways, reading and hearing his words differently, with more meaning and understanding than my early 20-something, pre-grieving self did.
I want more breadcrumbs. I will always want more breadcrumbs. But I am convinced that my dad left me with all of the ones I needed, and each one is only a few clicks away.