Mod­ern Grief

Con­fronting my hus­band’s dig­i­tal legacy, one email at a time

The Walrus - - ARTS & CULTURE - By Nancy West­away il­lus­tra­tion by mügluck

For the past few months, I have been search­ing through tweets, emails, Face­book posts, and text mes­sages for a miss­ing per­son. He isn’t a stranger. He’s my hus­band and the fa­ther of my two chil­dren. And he’s not re­ally miss­ing. He’s dead.

Of­ten late at night, af­ter I put our kids to bed, I be­gin my hunt for Jonathan. I reread emails about mun­dane den­tal ap­point­ments or brunch dates. I linger over quick asides, our kids’ pet names, and his sim­ple sign-off, “love JJ.” Each time, I find an­other morsel, some note that makes me smile. I can al­most hear him. But I know I am try­ing to do the im­pos­si­ble: to re­an­i­mate the love of my life, word by word, tweet by tweet, text by text.

My hus­band was a writer. He made wry ob­ser­va­tions in a few crisp words. We met in jour­nal­ism school in Win­nipeg in 1992. “I am strangely at­tracted to a badly dressed man,” I thought when I first met him. He needed a hair­cut, and he wore run­ners and rugby shirts. I hated sports. We used the same car­pool, and our daily com­mute be­came a rolling, laugh­ing ride through the streets. Jonathan’s bit­ing wit earned him the sar­cas­tic moniker “Sun­shine.”

In school, we learned how to in­ter­view and tell sto­ries ac­cu­rately, all while meet­ing high-pres­sure dead­lines. Soon af­ter grad­u­a­tion, Jon took a job as a reporter in Ed­mon­ton, and I started work­ing as a man­ag­ing ed­i­tor at a news and en­ter­tain­ment weekly in Win­nipeg. We were still just friends, but I felt hol­low when he moved away. One perk of my new job was a com­puter with In­ter­net ac­cess, and I quickly con­nected through email with Jon and two mem­bers of our car­pool.

On­line, we re­sumed the ban­ter of the icy drives to school. I teased Jon for his in­ep­ti­tude at dat­ing in an email with the sub­ject line “Why Jonny Can’t Breed.” His hi­lar­i­ous re­sponses be­came the high­light of my day, and my heart jumped when­ever his name ap­peared in my in­box.

One sum­mer day, Jon came home for a visit. We took a walk, and I told him I was crazy about him. We started dat­ing im­me­di­ately.

Our long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship was both ex­cit­ing and ex­cru­ci­at­ing. We would hug hello in the air­port and launch into a whirl­wind week­end. But half­way through a visit, I would be­gin to crash, await­ing the in­evitable good­bye. And far too soon, we’d be back in the air­port, say­ing our farewells.

We filled the phys­i­cal gap with fre­quent emails about our days and the sto­ries we were pur­su­ing. It was years be­fore we lived in the same city. We broke up, got back to­gether, and then fi­nally both landed jobs in Toronto. Af­ter one year shar­ing an ad­dress, we got en­gaged. We mar­ried

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