Digital bereavement – lost memory

black and white photo of a man sitting on a bench holding his baby daughter

Imagine you never saw a photo of your late loved one again? How would that feel? I don’t have a lot of photos of my Dad because he was usually behind the camera. But I have some (like the one with me as a baby above), and because many were taken in a pre-digital age I have them on paper and I’ve taken digital copies. That’s because they are precious to me, and are part of my memory of my late Dad.

lost memory banks

A recent media report highlighted that for some people this memory bank of our late loved ones, and our history with them, may be lost. It was reported that a man had stored all his photos online, as many of us do. Photos he had taken of his wife and child. When he died his family were unable to gain access to the photos. It was easier to gain probate for physical property and shares than it was that memory bank of photos.

memories of love

Photos like the one above form part of our own history. I have no memory of the day this photo was taken, with me on my Dad’s lap on a bench. What this photo does is remind me of the love and care I received from my Dad, that he supported me from my earliest years, even before I was old enough to understand all that he did. I could know this without this photo, but it is a strong emotional reminder of that love and care. Photos are a reminder of things we did together, our shared history. That family lost this link to their shared history with their lost loved one when they were denied access to his photos in the cloud.

losing part of yourself

I do know exactly where this photo was taken and that there is still a bench there. However I’d never be able to replace it. I am an adult, not the baby in this photo, and both my Dad and my Mum who took it are dead. Without the photos I lose a part of myself, of the family and environment that contributed to who I am today

many sorts of loss

When someone dies we recognise that loss. There are social conventions around loss in most communities. Yet losing, or being denied access to, photographs is another form of loss, that may compound the loss. The impact of that loss may not be recognised by others.

helping the living

Recognising the impact of losing a memory bank of photos may have on bereaved people, even a long time after their loved one has died, is something we can do for the living. We can also find out how to put our own digital world in order to minimise the loss to those who love us. This link gives information about how to contact the main social media and online content providers after someone has died.

Julie Millar is a counsellor in Chester.

She grew up at the seaside and loves sunshine and tea. She listens with her heart as well as her ears. She works with people who have lost something precious to them; a person, an animal, a dream… And people who have experienced abuse. People who are hurting or confused and want something to change.

Julie’s superpower is curiosity.

Follow Julie on Facebook and Instagram where she posts on a variety of topics.