This is a picture of the last text message I ever received from Mandi. I don’t think about it very often now, but it still represents the sheer uncertainty of life that we all face. One night she is taking Kenzie to the farmer’s market for fresh vegetables, asking me if it’s raining at our house. The next day her infamous Blackberry she loved so much went silent, never to be used again.
Unable to disconnect her line, I have kept Mandi’s phone number active for the last 10 years. My first idea was to give it to Kenzie as her cell phone number when she got her own phone once she was old enough. She was 2 at the time of Mandi’s passing and had spoken one word to that point – mama – before she reverted to being nonverbal. But I felt certain she would regain her speech – that the delay was just temporary.
As the years progressed, it became clear Kenzie’s path to being verbal would not be easy or quick. Still, I continued to pay the extra $20 a month to keep her number. I converted it into an internet-based home phone that would only be used if I had a cell service disruption, which never happened.
Years went by, but I could not bring myself to disconnect her phone. Mind you, it never was used, with the exception of an occasional forgetful moment on my part when I called from the line as my cell phone was recharging. I realized my mistake very quickly, stunning a friend or family member that still had Mandi’s phone programmed into their phone under her name. I felt horrible about the mistake and decided I would just unplug the line. But still, it remained on my bill as an active number.
As the concept of this book began to evolve into reality a couple of years ago, I made myself a promise. If I could write the memoir, then I would have no reason to keep the number active. It took me 3 years to trade off her car. 7 years to give away her clothes. And it will be 10 to disconnect her phone.
Today, the number is programmed for my Apple Fitness watch. Just as she did for the many years we were together, she is close to my heart, measuring my heart rate during a run or workout.
People struggling with grief after loss hang onto memories until they are ready to let them go. As well-meaning as people are, there is no way friends or family can artificially speed up the healing by telling someone that they’re wrong or even foolish for maintaining a connection. Everyone comes to a place of healing in their own time – with help and guidance from those they trust. Some take longer than others – and that’s perfectly okay and normal.
Mandi’s phone number will always be hers, even if it’s eventually reassigned to somebody else. I don’t need to hang on to that connection for emotional support any longer. But I’m not ashamed to have kept it for 10 years, either. Just like I’m not ashamed to have been a young widower grieving her unexpected loss.
Eventually we all give back what we acquire, except for the unconditional love for that person or time in our life that we keep tucked away in a small corner of our heart.