My grandmother Irene, who I called Nanny, died in 2017, but she’s still alive in my Google Drive. Her voice is, anyway. She was one of the most singular people I’ve ever met, and she left the best voicemails.
The need to prioritize the people in your life who matter most has never been greater than in quarantine: Everyone is going through something, and your friends and family need your unfettered support. Besides which, one can only do so many Zoom happy hours. So I started a Google Sheet and called it “Friends and Lovers.” I began with five tiers, but over the coming weeks, as I added people who popped into my head, I found it necessary to create micro-tiers. I ended up with 15 categories.
I named it something deliberately innocuous: ‘2014’, the year we’d been together….For a while, I opened the 2014 folder a lot. Then, a few months in, I deleted the first thing for good — a copy of an email he’d written. It wasn’t a particularly momentous occasion, but seeing it gone felt strangely good. And that’s how it started. Little by little, I chipped away at the folder as some memories faded or others solidified, or I became less angry at fights never resolved, or more accepting of the fact that there was no good ending to this story.
Because Adcock, like her mother, has always been a spreadsheet person, using one in this context “felt like a relief,” she writes. “It felt like something about this whole horrible experience that I could organize and make some sense of. The one island, in an ocean of sadness, that made sense.”
It’s an exercise that’s helped Larson feel closer than ever to the people that matter most. And, she observes, “The really lovely revelation of nursing my Google Doc during a pandemic: People have only moved up.”
I gathered everything I thought I would someday want to see or hear again, memories of Greg at his worst as well as at his best — photos, text messages copied into a Google Doc, copies of voicemails — and dropped them in a Google folder.
I have dozens of these voicemails, most of which I still haven’t listened to. At first the repository formed by accident — I’m bad at listening to voicemails and have a tendency to let them pile up — but once I knew she was dying, I decided to leave them unheard, and to move them somewhere safe. Accidentally deleting one from my phone suddenly felt like an unbearable risk.
So now Irene’s voicemail archive lives in its own folder on Google Drive, alongside a folder full of photos of her over the decades. One by one, I clicked into each voicemail, then hit the “share” button to export it to Drive, which I’d installed as an app on my phone. Every once in a while, when I really miss her, I dip into the vault and listen to a new one. Eventually, I know, I’ll have heard them all. But even then, that folder will be a place I can visit from anywhere, anytime, to hear her voice — there’s something about it talking directly to me that makes her presence feel fully alive.
We went through the house and took photos of things on our phones. Then we uploaded and organized the photos into shared Google Photo folders, sorted by room and by type. We also created a shareable Google Sheet listing all the objects and pieces, and linking to their respective photos in the shared folders. Then we sent emails with links to everything… The shareability of the spreadsheet made it possible for people to see what others had already claimed, and to leave notes for us and for each other in the cells. “I remember when she got this. I loved this picture. I would love to have it, if that’s all right with you.”
“Katie Lady,” they often begin, “It’s Nanny, will you please give me a call? But if it’s after 11, I’ll be at mass. And then I’m going to Rose’s — so you can call me there. Or try me here, after, oh, 5? Ok, love you, bye bye.”
(This kind of categorizing can also improve your social media experience: Create Facebook lists that parallel your categories, and use them to focus your attention on different groups of people, depending on the day and your mood.)