My stepfather died last spring and I received his iPad. The device still has Jeff’s old Facebook account and text messages. It was also reset by me. It was awkward to feel like I was walking around in Jeff’s XXL T-shirt with see-through khakis. But I prefer to be able to go to a place where I’m not distracted from my phone’s notifications.
I was scrolling through my iPad’s news one evening when I noticed a new app that I hadn’t seen before: Photos. It’s been a while since Jeff’s passing and I haven’t looked at my Facebook and Gmail messages in a while. But I did notice this one. I paused for about three seconds—I wonder if I should ask my mother’s permission first—and then looked.
When a family member died, the surviving relatives used to rummage through chests in the attic, looking through albums and memorabilia containing old stories; When our loved ones die today, they likely leave behind countless digital scraps: text messages, voicemails, emails, to-do lists, and social media accounts — including hidden ones.
We want to know what other people have learned about their friends and family through digital scraps that were left behind after someone dies. Send us a photo, email message, Facebook message, draft note, or any other digital information that you found, and let us know what it taught you. (See the sample below).
These digital messages are like boxes in the attic. They contain stories that we may not have known about relatives. My mother went through the letters my grandfather sent home from World War II to find out about his efforts to keep kosher. These messages have been there for years, but now they are heavier.
Digital scraps are often unretouched and spontaneous, unlike the albums and letters of older generations.
My stepfather died at the end. He had spent much of his free time reading and sleeping on the bed. Many of his photographs appear to have been taken from lying down. I have seen many foot shots with his Photos app. Many of the images looked more like accidental snapshots than intentional photos.
Feet, feet, feet, and then a pop—a series of close-ups of Jeff’s face, his head leaning on his hospital bed. Jeff took selfies in the hospital. I swear I smiled in one of them.
I kept coming back. Most of the old photos included my mom or his cats, Basil and Oregano — Reggie for short. My mother didn’t want to have anything to do with the cats, other than naming them. Jeff was always watching Reggie, and every time he crawled onto my mother’s lap while she was reading a magazine or watching a TV show, Jeff captured the moment.
My mother has been seen in many series trying on clothes over the years. These images, I imagine, are forced and necessary to keep a partner happy. Then some of them were taken to their favorite Maine lake. Jeff captured my mother as she was painting a wildflower scene in her Adirondack Chair.
I also spotted my children many years ago in another series. They were probably between 1 and 3 years old, wearing soccer pajamas. I could see Jeff’s belly and the boys playing on his lap. With the same gleam in their eyes as children who only see grandparents, they looked at Jeff.
The pictures provided a glimpse into an intimate moment that my stepfather shared in my life with my children. It is likely that I was still asleep in my bed at the time it occurred. It made me think about all the other moments they must’ve shared, just them.
This form is available for those who wish to participate. We plan to publish a selection from the responses to the digital scraps left behind by someone who dies in a future piece. We will not publish any portion of your message without first contacting. We may use your contact details to follow up with.
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