The Mighty Logo

Losing My Child Makes Changing My Phone Lock Screen Feel Like a Betrayal

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my iPhone lock screen photo. For the last six years, it has been a photo of June with her sweet, signature smile that lights up a room. About a week ago, I thought of changing it to a photo of George and Peter, and then I immediately felt disloyal to June.

I recently read “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. It’s Didion’s account of the year following the death of her husband while also caring for their daughter, who has a severe illness. This passage really popped out at me.

“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. Let them become the photograph on the table.”

Betrayal is something I’ve felt so often over the years. I felt it when we moved from the home that June lived in with us — the home where she also died. I still feel it every time a stranger asks me how many kids I have, and I only say “two” so as to not get into the depths of our family’s loss. I feel betrayal every year we send a Christmas card and don’t include June in some way. And of course, I feel it at the thought of contemplating changing the photo on my phone’s lock screen.

The author's phone lock screen with a photo of her daughter wearing a pink top.

But I think Didion was on to something with this particular passage. June will always be a part of me, but she isn’t the center of my life anymore. Everything I know about June tells me that’s OK. I think our loved ones who have died would likely want us to be fully alive for the time we have left here. Like a mother gently nudging her child off and telling her child that she’s OK as she embarks on a new chapter. We may turn back for reassurance, unsure if we can face this new time. “Go on,” I imagine June saying encouragingly. “I’ll be right here waiting for you.”

Maybe I’m not ready to change the photo in my phone yet, but I know there will come a time when I will be ready, and it will be OK for me to change it. I’m not disappointing my daughter, moving on, or erasing her. I’m letting life be what it is and enjoying what is here.

Getty image by Westend61.

Originally published: June 21, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home