Digital legacy: leaving memories of a life lived and loved behind

Death has been on my mind a lot recently – and not always in a bad way.

My husband’s much-loved grandmother (above, meeting our first son, her great-grandson, in 2011) would have been 100 last week, but sadly died eight weeks short of her century after old age finally caught up with the strongest of hearts.

An amazing woman, she was born weighing just 1lb and her own mother died in childbirth. Raised by her father, she went into service in her late teens and raised her own children in the stresses and horrors of World War 2.

Fragile and gradually failing healthwise for the 11 years that I had known her, she was nonetheless the beating heart of her immediate family, drawing everyone around her and always up to date on local comings and goings despite rarely leaving the house.

Her two sons and grandchildren have spent much of the time since her death clearing out her house – and unearthing long forgotten photos and their associated memories as they do so, of events long forgotten and sometimes not even known.

One thing that struck me was that Olive’s way of securing memories -albums of photos, clippings from the local newspaper – is very much coming to an end.

Now, memories are stored digitally – pictures on our phones, whole lives on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Our collective digital memories remember so much more – too much, maybe, minutiae mixed up with life-defining events – and yet there can be comfort in the unravelling of that life, which this piece on a ‘secret life’ discovered on a laptop belonging to the writer’s recently-deceased mother explains beautifully:

“But walking in mom’s online footsteps was also like crossing a field riddled with land mines. Without warning, something would trigger my grief and my heart was ripped open again. The most painful were those that came just before the cancer battle speeches, before she knew she was sick. There, plain as day, were her plans and hopes for a future she thought stretched out before her.”

Of the major social networks, only Facebook allows the ability to ‘memorisalise’ a dead person’s profile, preserving what is there and allowing existing friends and family contacts to post to the page.

A friend of a friend, who I knew slightly but not well, died reasonably unexpectedly two years ago. Friends often post to her page when they think of her, or do something she would have enjoyed – and her family often comment how much it means to them that she lives on in the memories of others and has not been forgotten.

So creating digital memories is not just something we do to share our highs and lows with those around us in the here and now, it’s increasingly our legacy too, for those who will one day rely on this instead of our physical presence.

Truly, storing these memories can also have a benefit in the present too – our brains are so over stimulated that we forget most of the things that happen to us immediately, so saving important memories somewhere allows us to return and relive the ones that stand out and matter most.

But our digital legacy, ultimately, is what we leave to pass on to those we spent our happiest times with – and digital apps such as digi.me offer an easier and more obvious way to do that.

While it is often argued, with a great deal of truth, that social media is very much a constructed self, the side we want to show the world, a private journal, again like digi.me, where you can add your own, non-shared entries and pictures, stands as a true reflection of the person you are and the times you lived in.

Your digital legacy is not replacing memories of the here and now, but one day it will replace the physical you – and in all likelihood offer comfort to those you leave behind.

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