Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Deleting the Deceased

The other day at work, I received one of those thankfully rare, but occasionally necessary “We're saddened to have to report that so-and-so has passed on” e-mails from one of our vendors. He was an old-timer at a company in Arkansas, and I had never met him in person, and possibly only spoken to him once or twice on the phone in the last ten years, and only in a business capacity. If I had bumped into him on the street, we would not have known each other.

So, I read the e-mail, then promptly went into my contacts lists on my computer and phone… and deleted him.

The second thing I did was say a short prayer for his family.

I’m not sure if the order of those two events makes me extremely callous, or extremely practical. I prefer to think of it as practical, but honestly, I felt like kind of a jerk when I hit the delete button. There is no good logical reason why I should feel like a jerk, but it happened just the same. In fact, I was really attempting to be the opposite of a jerk by expediently deleting the deceased.

I was trying not to forget to delete him, and the only way for me not to forget, is to do it right away. I am deathly afraid of forgetting to delete him, because I know, somewhere in Arkansas, there is some poor administrative assistant (“secretary,” for those of you over 60), who will spend the next three months fielding emails and phone calls for the deceased and having to explain why he won’t be getting back to them anytime soon. I don’t want to be one of those accidentally uninformed people that she has to deal with.

The situation is even worse when it is a friend or a relative that has passed on. Obviously, the loss hits you harder, but I’m referring to the situation with the contact deleting issue. Even though it is a loved one, you still have the same immediate need to do it. In fact, it is because they were close to you that makes it even more important to wipe out their contact info right away. Since they were close to you, you obviously won’t forget they died, but if you don’t take care of the administrative aspect of their passing posthaste, you might completely forget to delete their contact info.

I end up feeling even more cold-hearted when my reaction to the news of a loved one’s passing is to purge them from my electronic records. Even though the prayers come first in that situation, erasing their contact info is still the second thing on my list. Again, there is a good reason for this. I am nothing if not practical, and my goal is to spare myself and others further discomfort and mental anguish in the future. I am desperately trying to avoid accidentally mailing or e-mailing something to the dearly departed.

I am really, really trying to avoid the incredibly awkward situation where one of my friends’ or relatives’ family members has to get in contact with me to make sure I know that the person died.

“Uh, Smidge, you just sent an email to Bob. You remember that he passed away last Tuesday, right? I mean, you were at the funeral. You gave the eulogy.”
“Uhhh… whoops. No, I didn’t forget he died. I just forgot to take him off the 'people to forward funny jokes to' list. Sorry about that.”

Not a conversation you want to have.

The situation gets even weirder, nowadays, when the deceased had a Facebook page. It usually falls to the next of kin to post an announcement to make the online friends of the departed aware of the loss. However, if the dead person had an uncrackable password, they might “live on” forever in social media. Deleting contact info on your computer and phone is a personal and private matter. But, what do you do publically about the fact that you are “friends” with someone who can no longer log in?

Prudence would dictate that you “unfriend” them right away. Good manners and feelings would dictate that you waffle on that and wait to see what everyone else does. This leads to a lot of dead people being “friends” with a lot of live people online for longer than everyone is comfortable with. Facebook itself adds an extra weird dimension to it sometimes, also. I actually received an automated notice from Facebook suggesting that I be friends with one of my relatives who had passed away earlier in the year. Apparently he had an uncrackable password.

Being the author of award-winning books (my kids give me awards made out of construction paper and glitter when I publish a book), and the keyboard jockey in charge of this column, I have quite a few friends on Facebook that I have never actually met in person. This makes the unfriending process even more difficult. Your relatives, who know you personally, will perceive your actions in a different light than someone you don’t know, who might only see you as “the callous jerk who just deleted my dead brother.” We really need a universally adopted period of social media mourning, followed by pulling the plug, as it were, on their page.

Possibly the best idea for dealing with the Facebook issue came from a conversation I overheard on a plane. A nine year old boy and his dad were sitting in the row in front of me, and I heard the kid say, “Hey dad. When you die, I’m going to keep updating your Facebook page. I’ll write, ‘Hey, they have wifi up here.’ That will freak people out.”

At the very least, Facebook needs a “reluctantly saying goodbye” button. “Unfriend” just sends the wrong message in a time of grief. As for my email contact issue, I feel bad enough when I’m deleting someone who has died. I wish Microsoft wouldn’t pile on.

"Are you sure you want to delete this person?"

Hey pal, don't judge me. I didn't want to delete them. That was God's call. I just need to update my records before I forget and accidentally try to send a dead person a funny joke or a Christmas letter.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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