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My Daily, Digital Memorials

Dec 30, 2017
Originally published on December 30, 2017 6:02 am

We've all been listening to what we in the broadcast biz call "year-enders": the most popular books, music and movies of the year; and of course the always-moving lists of people who died this year, mostly famous people.

But we also have our lists of people in our private lives. Our close friends' Christmas dinner always includes toasts to people who are no longer at the table — it's a moment of memory we welcome and dread at the same time. We all have our own ways of remembering our dead. And I want to share mine with you.

I have a daily digital memorial: it's my password. Every day I settle down with whatever digital device I'm using at the time — at the office with the computer that has two screens, at home with the little iPad that I keep my bedside reading on, in the cab when I get out my phone to tell my husband I'm on the way — and I put in a password.

The first time I did this, it was my mother's name. She's been dead for almost 30 years. Like most women from our part of the country, she had two first names. She also had two husbands and therefore names to choose among, making it possible for me to combine and recombine them for years — both for comfort and for security's sake.

My father was next; I used his names for several years. And each time I typed those names into the computer, the person came into my mind. I felt that my passwords were digital insurance against losing all the memories I have of being a child with these two parents: of working with my dad at his grocery store, of learning to cook with my mother, of family stories I heard from them. When I created new passwords I put numbers in — ancient phone numbers, dates, combinations that mean something only to me.

It was a shock when I first entered the name of a close family member who was younger than me when she died. I thought about that, I thought about who's next on my password list. But then I got a grip and invited her memory to come in and comfort me.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

We've all been listening to what we in the broadcast biz call year-enders, the most popular books, music, movies of the year and, of course, the always-moving lists of people who died this year, mostly famous people. But we also have our lists of people in our private lives. Our close friend's Christmas dinner always includes toasts to people who are no longer at the table. It's a moment of memory we welcome and dread at the same time.

We all have our own ways of remembering our dead, and I want to share mine with you. I have a daily digital memorial. It's a password. Every day I settle down with whatever digital device I'm using at the time and type in a password at the office, at home, in a cab. The first time I did this, it was my mother's name. She's been dead for almost 30 years. Like most women from our part of the country, she had two first names. She also had two husbands. Therefore, lots of names to choose among, making it possible for me to combine and recombine them for years, both for comfort and for security's sake. My father was next. I used his names for several years. And each time I typed those names into the computer, the person came into my mind.

I felt my passwords were digital insurance against losing all the memories I have of being a child of these two people - of working with my dad at his grocery store, of learning to cook with my mother, of family stories I heard from them. When I created new passwords, sometimes, I put their numbers in - ancient phone numbers, dates, combinations that mean something only to me and them. It was a shock when I first entered the name of a close family member who was younger than I was when she died. I thought about that, and I thought about who's next on my password list. But then I got a grip, and I invited her memory to come in and comfort me.

(SOUNDBITE OF REMBRANDT'S "ALTERED STATE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.