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Expecting The Unexpected

Chanel Reynolds On Leaving Traces Of A Life

When a spouse dies, how do you deal with the physical and digital mementos that remain? By Chanel Reynolds.

I devoted five short sentences to “Leaving Traces” when I launched the Get Your Shit Together site last January. Although it’s only a small blurb on the vaguely titled ‘Thoughts’ page, I get asked about this All. The. Time.

After I ‘got the call’ that my husband had been in an accident and taken to the ER at the Trauma Hospital four years ago, a week later I approved removing medical ‘intervention’—it took a few months after the obvious legal, financial, and immediate emotional shit-storm subsided, to realize I had became the archivist of someone’s life. What I kept, shared or left private made a difference. And there were so many things.

What do I do with the 10,000 digital images and the storage bin full of photos? The social media history alongside the letters in a shoebox from his high school girlfriend? Our digital accounts and thousands of ‘things’ from the car keys and wallet he touched every day, to his drawer full of socks? What are you supposed to do with the socks, you know?

People didn’t really have this wealth of traces not so long ago—maybe some jewelry, silver set or fancy sheets, or a box of letters with a few worn pictures to treasure. Now, dozens of hours, or hundreds, are required to just to simply find and go through everything. And, I’ll admit, this highest honor sometimes felt like a giant pain in the ass. I meticulously archived photos online with customized access—and then I just threw the socks in the trash.

What do I do with the 10,000 digital images and the storage bin full of photos?

The analog + digital legacy is curious topic for your own late-night pondering, but also appears to be driving a whole new conversation. I connected with the incredible peeps at The Order of the Good Death, talked to LifeStory, was sent a link to the best TED talks on death and was forwarded this incredibly raw and honest documentary project “Everything Will Be Okay” telling the story one man’s journey facing death, which brought me to my knees. Then there was this one from 2010…a BBC article ‘Life goes on after Death” about Memory Box, an intentionally curated presentation of your own life.

Last month was marked even more for me by a friend’s memorial and my own milestone happening the same day. But makes me wonder even more how is this going to play out, what will it look like after I am gone? Will I be regenerated in some holographic room where my kids can program me to do funny dances, a holodeck where dead ancestors do the hokey-pokey?

It makes me wonder…is this a crazy amazing breakthrough that we can create an interactive museum-quality experience of our lives? Or, is this just a post-mortem, more 360 version of Glamour Shots from high school, with better lighting and an updated UI?

While I care about what I leave for my family and how I’ll be remembered, I’ll be dead and my memory will really be only for the ones still living. It will be up to them. But whatever Death 2.0 turns out to be, it still comes down to this: Try to leave some things along the way so people can feel close to you. Whatever that is, it makes a big difference.


A longer version of this article originally appeared on Chanel Reynold's blog "Get Your Shit Together," under the title "Leaving Traces." Copyright @2013 Get Your Shit Together.

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