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Messages From Beyond

I encountered two interesting (albeit morbid) thoughts in the same week.  The first was an essay on Kokatu.  The author lost his father last spring and is currently musing on what he should do with all of his father’s game save files.  It made me think about my own game save files and what I would want to happen after I’m gone.

I mean, I’ve worked hard on my Hay Day farm and solving the puzzles in LEGO Dimensions.  I hope someone would come around and keep those games going for me, or at least enjoy playing inside all of my hard work once or twice, despite the fact that I would break everyone’s fingers if they touched those game save files while I was still alive.

The essay is really about what we leave behind and the stories those files tell.  His dad played hours of Civilization, which begs the question “why?”  Because it was fun?  Because it was a place where he felt in control?  I know my love of Hay Day is tied to the low-stakes organizational nature of the game.  Cleaning my house is big and unruly: Do I want to save or toss this paper?  Taking care of my fields in Hay Day takes a swipe of the finger.  The game behaves in the same way, day after day after day.  In an unpredictable and often-times scary world, Hay Day is a sunny place where it never rains, crops never die, and the townspeople live in friendly harmony.  The exact opposite of watching the news.

I hope someone keeps these save files as well as all of the maps and notes I have stored in a box that go with hundreds of interactive fiction games.  But those are my wishes; once I’m gone, I don’t know if those things will matter to anyone else.


The second thought came in a podcast.  In “Messages From the Beyond” on Note to Self, Manoush and her team speak to a mother who is using Safe Beyond, a service that allows you to record emails, voice notes, and videos and will deliver them certain dates or on set events in the future after you’re gone.

The woman in the episode is recording messages for her children as she battles cancer, though she changes course towards the end of the episode when her kids let her know that they will not be able to handle receiving an email from her on their wedding day if she is not at their wedding.

The podcast producer asks the hard question, one that inadvertently comes up in the essay above, too: Are the messages for the creator or the receiver?  If the creator wants to make them, should the receiver have to read them?  Or if the receiver says they don’t want them, should the creator stop even though she has a need to leave her words behind?

I don’t like the idea of surprising people and having a message pop into their inbox when they least expect it, but I do like both the idea of leaving messages behind as well as receiving messages after someone is gone.  Of course, I don’t trust other websites and their machines, so I could see myself only doing something like this via paper or digital files on my computer with many backups.  And then marking the envelopes with messages such as “to be read on your graduation day” or “to be read whenever you miss me.”

It would make me feel better to know I left behind those notes and that people will still get to connect with me after I’m gone.  But I’m not sure if the people I would leave them for would want them.  Maybe it would make it harder to let someone go.

I think it helps if it’s a natural extension of what you already do while you’re living.  For instance, when the kids went on a camping trip this year, I filled their bag with little notes marked “to be read on the first night” or “to be read when you’re missing home.”  One of the kids had a hard first night, and I had to drop off a new handful of notes to be read because they opened up all the remaining notes to get through that first night.  So maybe they would want notes after I’m gone.

But maybe those camping notes only worked because the kids knew they were a paper bridge between seeing each other again.  Words to hoist them over the divide until we’re on the other side of the trip.  And, clearly, death would not be like a camping trip at all.

Unlike the save files, which were made solely for myself, these notes would be reaching outward, speaking directly with people I love.  They would tell people information, much in the same way those save files tell a story, but those words would be meant for them vs. ideas that they inadvertently stumble across when boxing up a life.

It was food for thought during a long drive.

Would you want to receive notes after someone was gone?  Would you be okay if they came to you on random days and you never knew when you’d receive one?  Would you want to leave other people notes this way?


1 a { 01.11.17 at 8:25 am }

I think people sort of prefer to imagine that they’re receiving current communications. Like when they narrowly avoided an accident or get a lucky break and say that their dead relatives were watching out for them. Or last week, when I kept hearing Mary Jane’s Last Dance – that was my mom’s name. I think the idea of notes are sort of out of context and jarring – how can you write a note for a future event when you don’t know the circumstances? It’s easier for me to imagine what my parents would say rather than read a note that doesn’t quite fit. But we’re not really a note kind of family, so that may be a factor.

2 a { 01.11.17 at 8:26 am }

Oh, and when my daughter tries to mess with my Hay Day farm…Let’s just say she doesn’t do that any more…

3 dubliner in deutschland { 01.11.17 at 8:30 am }

Speaking as someone who lost their mum, I would give anything to receive messages from her now! It would be better to know exactly when you would get the message though and to be able to listen/read it at your own convenience so it doesn’t catch you off guard and be too upsetting.

4 torthuil { 01.11.17 at 8:51 am }

I don’t know. I kind of agree with “a”: it’s nice to think that those who have died are somewhere looking out for us. I wouldn’t expect them to communicate in words because in death one leaves words and other mortal artifacts behind (in my mind). But I’d like to think they can communicate in a larger way. On the other hand, I know that the words and mementos of a person become a lot more important once the person is gone. For example my dad never gave me a lot of jewelry (it wasn’t his thing) and the few pieces I had were stolen some years ago. It didn’t bother me hugely at the time (no more than what you’d expect) but now sometimes I wish I had something to wear to remember him, and I’m very careful of gifts from other important people. I have never put away the last birthday card with his signature. In summary I guess I think it’s fine to leave notes, but to remember that it will be interpreted by the receiver depending on the circumstance, so maybe to keep the messages more universal and general rather than trying to influence what they might be feeling or experiencing in the moment.

5 Karen { 01.11.17 at 9:14 am }

A friend of mine, who died of cancer last year, left Christmas presents for her kids for the next 20 years. I thought that was an amazing idea, both from her side, to express her love for her kids, and from her kids’s side – that every year they would get something special from their mother.

I think, as hard as it is, I would really love to get a note from someone who loved me, telling me how much I was loved. But I also come from the perspective that the people close to me – the ones I’d want to hear from – all died suddenly, and I never did get to tell them or hear from them how much they meant to me.

6 Raven { 01.11.17 at 10:12 am }

I would love to receive words from a loved one after they’re gone – but I would not want them to surprise me. I would imagine a lot of strength is put into facing a wedding without someone like a mother or father – and you may have just managed to get through the day, when an email pops up from them and everything falls apart. I would much rather know it’s there, and read it when I am ready and have a moment to sick quietly with the words and experience grief.

Having said that – after my beloved grandmother passed away, my cousin found a note in an old photo album from my grandma when she was a teenager written to her sister and it read: “Be gentle and loving, be kind and polite, be thoughtful for others, be sure and do right.” While that came as a surprise to us all, it is one of my most treasured memories.

So I guess I am not sure if I would want the surprise or not. Depending on the circumstance, perhaps a surprise would be OK. Either way, I think leaving your words for your loved ones is a lovely way of reminding them you are there, watching, loving and missing them.

7 B { 01.11.17 at 10:26 am }

I prefer an idea where you leave messages with some wiggle-room that allows the receiver to choose when to read. So instead of “on a wedding day” you might say “on a day you’re feeling happy” or “when life seems tough” or something like that. (Hopefully the second one isn’t for your wedding day.)

Apart from anything else, the person might not get married (or insert life event here). And then you might feel like you “lost” a message just because you didn’t do that thing. Would that feel like being punished for not fulfilling parental expectations? What if you wanted to do that thing but couldn’t?

Many messages could be useful under a broad range of circumstances.

8 35jupiterdrive { 01.11.17 at 11:29 am }

My mother was my best friend, is still the person I most admire, is still the one person I try to emulate.

I lost her young, unexpectedly, suddenly. I would give anything to have a letter from her about love, or about living life, or her favourite memories of our time together or even just that she loved me. (Which I knew she did.) I would love to have something that reminds me of my best qualities when I’m down on myself, and the world’s best qualities for the times when it seems to have very few.

I would give 10 years of my life to have one more day with her, and would have made that deal at any time during my life, even if it meant I wouldn’t be here now. Letters would almost be getting that deal without trading in the years.

9 Chris { 01.11.17 at 2:09 pm }

My mom was my absolute best friend for my entire life, and she died far too young. She actually did leave me one letter and while it makes me bawl just thinking about it I absolutely treasure that letter. I actually have a scanned copy I carry around with me so I won’t ever be without it. I definitely wish there more and and love she did that. But, I agree with not necessarily getting them on a specific day. One of the very big reasons I don’t have kids is because of her being gone. I know she’d think I should have had them anyway and I’d hate to have missed out on a letter….lol

10 Cynthia J. Coleman { 01.11.17 at 11:12 pm }

I don’t know. Important information would be good to leave behind, such as; their wishes for the funeral, personal letters, financial info, info about properties, and etcetera. A video would be good, too. My dad had Alzheimer’s before he died, but it would have been great to hear from him later. Letters at different stages and ages of the recipient would be terrific.

11 JustHeather { 01.12.17 at 3:07 pm }

I would love to have some sort of letter from my mom! In some way, the clothes and baby items she had bought for me while we were trying, before she died, are sort of a “letter”. I know she was thinking of me and hoping I would get pregnant. I now find it hard to get rid of some of that stuff…I know we’ll never need it again and it is taking space, but my mom bought it for me/us. I could save some for my kids, but will they want it? And again, space. I need to photograph them. 🙂

12 Mali { 01.12.17 at 9:18 pm }

I really don’t know. It seems artificial somehow, the sending of messages. I think those who lost a parent or someone important when they were young would get comfort from it. Would I want a message from my mother now, that she’d written some years ago? It doesn’t bring her back, or make the loss any less, so I’m really not convinced.

I feel the same about things I love, and as someone without children I’ve certainly had to think about this too. They are things I love, and I do them/have them because they are important to me. I don’t want people to feel they have to keep something of mine, if it isn’t something that brings back special memories, or gives them real pleasure. If it is, then that’s great. But maybe they’ll have a special memory or attachment to something of mine that is not at all important to me.

So I’m not going to take it as a personal insult if no-one wants my stuff/books/games/music/memories. I’m going to make the most of it while I’m here. That’s all I can do. All any of us can do.

13 Click { 01.14.17 at 2:00 pm }

I think I would love to receive notes after someone had gone, though I think I would like to have some warning and control over when I got to read them. Like if I knew there was one for my birthday, I might choose to open it towards the end of the day or perhaps the day after so that the contents wouldn’t… I don’t know, not ‘spoil’ but perhaps affect my mood during the day.

A message cropping up out of the blue on my wedding day might make me feel a little uncomfortable or might be upsetting, even if it wasn’t intended in that way. But I’d like to know that the person writing those notes was thinking of me on those days, even if they weren’t physically there on that day.

14 mijk { 01.15.17 at 2:43 pm }

A friend of mine received a letter from her mom who died when she was 11 when she gave birth to her first child. It was about when she was born. How her mom felt what was hard. The things you ask your mom… I always knew I would want to do this…

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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