Widows in the Future

Widows in the Future
by Kim Shute
My husband and I would often say when something really cool happened, “living in the future is awesome!” When something about technology would go awry we would simply change the tone and say, “living in the future is awesome, isn’t it?” Living in the future was simple until I became a young (44 still counts as young, right?) and unwilling widow, as if there is another kind.

There are checklists out there on the interwebs, libraries and senior centers to help the grief stricken deal with the nuts and bolts of post death administration work. The old school lists include things like balancing your checkbook or changing the name on the cable bill from their name to yours or when to go through their belongings or how to talk to kids about bone deep sadness. Those lists were written before email, streaming on Netflix, Facebook, AppleID, and texting.

Logistically speaking I was in a perfect position for a smooth transition from married woman to widow as I handled most of these issues in our life together anyway. He was supposed put away the dishes from the drainer, he did that about once a month. He was also supposed to be the tech czar of our household, since he was an electrical engineer and had an IQ that could almost rival Stephen Hawking. I am not sure why I ever allowed this to happen, but he was the primary on both AppleID and Netflix accounts.

In my grief washed life I could handle seeing his name and his picture when I decided to see it. If these images popped up and I was unaware it could send me into a gritty raw centrifuge of untamed and uncensored feelings or worse yet an emotional coma. I was unbelievably fortunate to have a very deep bench of close friends that came to my rescue, many of them uber nerds. Generally nerd is my preferred demographic, no matter the topic of nerddom. I married one after all. My seventeen year old son confirms I, too, am a nerd about whatever my current boring obsession is from knitting to printmaking to organizing to gardening. Thankfully people swooped in and figured out what needed doing and in what time frame. My functionality was confined to walks on the beach and drinking liquid nutrition immediately following his diagnosis and death.

As I mentioned the “future” has some challenges for the newly bereaved among us. I have been using email for twenty years which means I am no new kid on the block to some of the antiquated technologies. The three areas that were toughest during the transition of power, IMO ( that’s right using the abbreviations like the kids do, IMO=in my opinion), besides working the three remote controls, were Facebook, Netflix and AppleID.

Facebook was painful because it does those heart string breaking compilations of times gone by. The year in review through pictures with the grand finale of my husband in the ICU in Taiwan on his deathbed. As the bullheaded griever that I am I want to “take on” these little slideshows to demonstrate how tough I am. Or maybe to cry the rest of the tears out of their holding cells, practically pleading to be done with tears forever. I think I am addicted to grief, turning away from those videos feels akin to a bulimic saying no to purging. I can’t say no to it, I have to watch it. The agony of loss tangled up with desperate yearning and a backsplash hinting at comfort drenches me to the core. I do not recommend you do this! Supposedly whatever you do is ok during this bereavement thing. I suggest having someone turn off the memories on Facebook for you before you find yourself gasping for air as your head sinks below the surface of what is now your life. The memories can be nice when you are further along in your grief. In the very beginning memories just plain hurt. Initially platitudes about the memories being like a “warm sweater to comfort you” only make it worse.

The other piece of the unexpected Facebook situation is to memorialize or not to memorialize? I could not do it for a long time. I could not change my relationship status from married to widowed until I memorialized his account. I was not ready for to give his identity the dead status. If I did I would lose all the chat windows I ever had with him including: our last online fight when he was in Taiwan and I was in Rhode Island. One of his last messages danced around the words he could not bring himself to write,“ I can’t come home, I don’t have the flu, I have Acute Myeloid Leukemia.” My advice is to have a tech savvy friend or family member save the account for you. This way you do not lose those pieces of your shared history. You may want them someday or maybe you won’t, but regardless you will wish you had the choice.

Netflix is still plaguing me. I had to go into his email and nose around, good thing I know he was too prone to inertia to have an affair. Netflix is normally quite helpful keeping all those different accounts, eliminating the need to sift through the kid’s endless Johnny Test episodes to find your most recently watched grown up stuff. However, when someone you share Netflix with dies seeing their name on your 37 inch flatscreen at the end of a hard day of mourning is the last thing you need before another either sleepless or drug induced sleepful night. You may need help changing the name or want the record of what you watched together. My friends changed it for me to read “Family” which is better than what my eyes saw “ Richard, your dead husband who is NEVER coming back!” The word “Family” has its own activating moments as I often feel like our family died when he did. Netflix now sends emails to my address greeting me with “Richard, Look what we have added recently!” I guess I am not as delicate as I was 17 months ago because it does not send me in emotional turmoil anymore. So there may be hope for you too.

AppleID is kind of the worst of the lot. We bought music we both like on his account and mine. There is no way currently to fuse the two accounts, despite many calls to tech support. This means I have to log out of one account to get the music in the other. I can never remember both usernames and passwords, not to mention which music is in what account which makes me feel like an incompetent burden. These are not the logistics I was prepared to address head on. My mantra of, “Living in the future is awesome!” has some new texture added by sudden, traumatic death and now I have to say it alone.

If you have faced technological challenges unexpectedly during your time of loss please share them with us. It helps to know we are not alone here in the “future”.