This post was written after I read Modern Grief by Nancy Westaway in The Walrus, following the death of her husband.
Dad was not my husband, but I am an adult son. I am also the most tech-savvy of my family members so I have taken the most interest (or remembered best) in dad’s digital life.
The article was poignant, not only because of how close to home it has hit – losing someone you love so much – but also in terms of asking the question that has been going around for years: what happens to our virtual lives, digital footprints and data we’ve collected or created when we die?
I’ve been taking my time clearing his things – to be honest, some days I walk around still in disbelief that he’s not been around for almost a month – but I still haven’t yet decided what to do with his technological legacy.
Dad was never on any social media, so there is nothing to memorialise per se. His blog will remain online for as long as Blogger runs, I suspect, although I have been wondering if I should archive it in some way in case it does.
The family tree he’s worked on for four decades lives on – I have been paying the cost of maintaining it over the past couple of years as his dementia hit and he forgot about it – and my oldest sister has said she wants to keep it going.
I also have access to his emails, and I’ve been torn between deleting the newer spam or letting his old stuff drown. As a researcher, part of me really wants to keep the authenticity of his email habits, but as his son, I feel like I should freeze everything at the point of his death.
The official stuff is less complicated. Before the dementia got worse, we managed to convince him to cancel all his credit cards and sort out his banking issues.
Then there are the physical items which rely on technology. I can finally throw away a few of the old CPUs, scanners and printers he’s been hoarding all these years. The fact is, they are obsolete. But then there are the hard drives, DVD/CDs and floppy disks that will all slowly become obsolete too (I will need to buy a floppy disc drive if I want to go through his stuff).
Which leaves me at the toughest question of all. Yes, dad trusted me with all these considering he left me all his passwords. But I don’t know if I should be reading any of the emails, looking into any of the disks.
So, for now, I’ve thrown away some things which I don’t imagine has useful data on them. Everything else is in one drawer. I think they’ll all remain there until we – my family – figure out what to do.
1.18pm Malaysian time (+8 GMT)