When a loved one dies, we often do our best to keep them with us. Some people find comfort in saving old text messages, voicemails, written notes, or anything else that reminds us of the person we have lost. There are others, of course, who do not want to keep these types of messages, and find them too painful to revisit; that is fine as well.
Holding onto mementos is a common bereavement practice. Now, several new services allow you to send messages and more to your loved ones after your death. And no, we are not talking about Ouija Boards, Mediums, and other types of Spiritualism, but pre-planned messages.
Post-death messaging is now something to consider as part of your end-of-life planning. How would you feel if you received a message, or several, from a deceased loved one? Do your end-of-life plans include pre-planned messages passed onto your loved ones? Are you a trickster by nature and want to give everyone one last prank from beyond the grave?
The idea of sending text messages from the afterlife may seem odd, but it isn’t very different from the myriad ways that humans have evoked the presence of themselves or others after death. What does this all mean, why does it matter, and how can you do it?
Sending Text Messages from the Afterlife
Writing Grief: Death and Dying
Writing letters to a deceased loved one can be cathartic, and offers a chance to maintain connections long after a person has died. When one of my dearest friends passed away ten years ago, I wrote short journal entries addressed directly to him. I had so much I wanted to say to him in the aftermath of his death, and my writing was a way to speak to him even though he is gone. Letter writing meant that I could continue a conversation that was otherwise over in the wake of his death.
Writing can also be a therapeutic practice for the dying. I spoke with end-of-life professionals who shared stories of helping people write final correspondence to be shared with their loved ones. One death professional, an in-home caregiver, shared what inspired her to become a death doula:
“One person I was caring for had me write letters to her daughters before she died. She had dementia but there was one night she was totally lucid and we talked all night about her impending death. She ended up having me write letters to her daughters knowing that she would probably be lost in the world of dementia again soon. It was so sad, but she was so brave and strong to confront it all so head on and the daughters treasured the letters.
That was actually the night that led to me learning about death doula. The woman told me she needed me to be with her when she died and asked if I would be available when the time came, that she would feel comforted if I held her hand through it. Her daughters started calling me the death midwife after that and that led me to discovering a name for this work.” – Anonymous
The idea of sending text messages from the afterlife may seem odd, but how different is it from the myriad ways that humans have, and continue to, evoke the presence of themselves or others after death?
Older models of grief, like the 5 stages model, prioritized the psychological separation of the living and dead. The goal of grieving according to the 5 stages model is to eventually break all bonds with the dead. However, scholars have pushed back against staged theories of grief in favor of a ‘continuing bonds’ model. This model suggests that part of grieving is learning how to establish a new relationship with the dead now that their physical presence is gone.
Some studies have found that afterlife communication can help facilitate continuing bonds between the living and the deceased. If grief is love with no place left to go, shared messages can help the bereaved find a place for that love and feel connected to the deceased. For some, reading letters or watching the departed in a video would be invaluable during bereavement. In other words, it is normal and healthy to maintain bonds with the dead.
Planning Your Messages
This type of correspondence creation can be part of your legacy planning. Our previous article, How to Build Your Digital Legacy: The 5 Most Important Questions can help get you started. You can add your stories, messages, photos, videos, and more to a digital memorial such as Keeper Memorials. Sites like Keeper provide you with the option to keep your information private until after your death, at which point the page would be managed by a chosen loved one who can share your memorial and digital legacy.
There are several apps that help you create, store and share your after-death messages. Gone Not Gone helps you collect text and videos that will be shared with your loved ones after you have died, which can be anything from a general message of love to a birthday greeting. SafeBeyond is an android app designed to store and send messages after you have died. The Postage is a web-based service that helps you pre-plan emails (i.e. send emails in the future after your death).
After Cloud Moments, is another app where users can record and store messages that can be shared with their loved ones after they die. It may seem strange, but including messages, stories, and special notes to our loved ones can help us talk about our life and legacy while we are still here. It can even help us tackle our own death in a safe space with our closest loved ones.
You might be asking yourself: I am dead, why would this matter? Well, continuing bonds literature suggests that it can help the people you leave behind. End-of-life planning, funerals, memorials, even wills, are more for the living than the dead. Facilitating this form of communication can serve as a final act of love you leave for them, something intimate, something that builds a connection beyond your death.
Digital media can extend one’s personhood following death. Our digital legacies live on well past our death, and now we can control the message like never before. Planning and creating final correspondence for loved ones is not for everyone, but there are many options out there for those who are drawn to the idea.
I leave you with a final quote shared with me from another death care professional:
“One of my closest friends wrote very personal letters to her inner circle before she died of a rare cancer. She asked her mother to mail them after she died. I received one. It was such a beautiful gesture and so comforting to me to read her words. I’ve kept this letter for years now, and occasionally read it again to remind me of our relationship. It was a total surprise to open the mailbox and see it there with her name on it. Highly recommend it to anyone who wants to leave a personal message for someone. So tangible.” – Anonymous.