This piece is part of How Google Drive Can Make Every Corner of Your Life Easier
If you’ve ever been in a product design meeting, you know that often, it’s impossible to predict all the ways a piece of technology will be used once it’s out in the world. Human experience is too variable.
I’d bet, for example, that Google’s product team didn’t have “grief management” as a use case on their whiteboard for Google Drive, but that’s exactly what I used it for.
I met Greg when I moved to Chicago for graduate school. We had an intense, whirlwind relationship that we both thought would be forever. Then, less than a year after we started seeing each other, he relapsed into an addiction. After several messy half-breakups, I cut off all contact but kept in touch with his family in the hopes that I’d hear from him again when he got clean. Instead, nine months later, I heard that Greg had died.
It was only after he was gone that I realized how deeply Greg’s presence was still embedded in my digital life. He was all over my computer and social media accounts: Photos. Chats. Emails. Articles I’d saved about addiction. Put together, these things formed not only a picture of Greg but a chronicle of an addiction swallowing a promising young man. They created an acutely painful story of loss.
I was reluctant to delete it all. When someone we love dies, we’re left to make sense of a cavernous space where they used to be. Those few megabytes were all I had left of him.
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Leaving everything untouched didn’t feel right, either. The sorrow was always there, waiting, ready to spill itself out into the room whenever I opened my laptop. At the end of one particularly long workday, I was staring at my screen, searching, bleary-eyed, for a document I needed to edit. Instead, I stumbled on a photo of me and Greg, taken on a Chicago beach, me grinning at the camera while he grabbed me in a bear hug.
I knew then I didn’t want my raw grief so readily available — on my desktop, in my inbox, in my program files. But I also didn’t want it gone.
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 named it something deliberately innocuous: “2014,” the year we’d been together. It sat comfortably above a folder with PDF backups of old work. For all anyone knew, it could have had invoices in it.
Then I wiped all traces of Greg from my hard drive and social media.
For a while, I opened the 2014 folder a lot. Then, a few months in, I made my first deletion — 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. I deleted the last of my folder years later.
Managing what’s left behind after a death is a key part of any bereavement process. In modern life, however, memories aren’t relegated to closets and dusty boxes; they’re often stored in 1s and 0s on our devices. Figuring out how to wrestle with that has been an awkward question in a world that’s reluctant to admit we let our hearts and technology mix. Luckily for me, within the framework of Google Drive, alongside shared documents and photos, there was also space for healing.