What is normal in grief? Our culture has lots of advice, little of it helpful. Any mother who’s endured a miscarriage knows the difficult messages a grieving younger person hears. “You’re still young enough to have another one.” “At some point, you need to move on.” The pressures I feel as a young widow aren’t that different.
As I approach the six month anniversary of Rob’s death, I am aware that my posture of active remembrance runs counterculture. Thankfully, my husband wrote a little book about dying, and I know our culture needs some major help on this topic. I feel free to grieve deeply and on my own timetable.
It’s normal in grief to get rid of your loved one’s belongings. It’s also normal to hold onto them, sometimes for a very long time. So far, I haven’t been ready to cancel Rob’s phone line and let this piece of him go. Rob’s phone was shattered in his accident. It miraculously still functioned, but I needed to get information off it and was afraid of cutting my fingers on the broken glass screen. His phone wasn’t paid off when he died, so I submitted a claim to his insurance to get it replaced.
When the replacement phone arrived, it hurt more than I anticipated to remove the SIM card from his broken one, put it into the new phone, and bundle his broken phone up to send back. I audibly said “goodbye” to the box as I dropped it off at the UPS store, and I cried on the way home. It was a sad farewell.
Even though it’s shattered — maybe because it’s shattered — that phone meant so much to me. We’re sometimes embarrassed to admit how intimately we are tied to our technology, but it’s true. That phone slid into his pocket each morning, warmed to his body temperature in his hand. It was the receptacle of his thoughts and memories and dreams. (How many hiking apps does a man need?!) And it was on him when he died. The kids were apprehensive about me sending it back; they got it instinctually. Giving up Rob’s shattered phone was giving up another piece of him.
Rob’s SIM card is safely installed into the replacement phone now — “Dad’s phone” — though he’ll never hold it in his hand. If you call his number, you’ll still hear his voicemail. (I love that.) We keep the phone in the cabinet for emergencies. The kids especially love that the games Rob downloaded for them are all still on there. The replacement phone is “just like Dad’s used to be!”
As I set up the new phone, I kept his password the same. However, the fingerprint ID is mine now instead of his. It feels practical, if a little inauthentic. But this mishmash of past and present and future is our “new normal” now. Everything can be normal in grief. Even setting up a new phone for a man who will never use it.