Ghosts in the Machine

Willett Norman on phone Dad

“Call from Willett, Norman.”

Actually it’s not. When our landline phone announces who’s calling, I know it’s not my dad. He died a year ago today.

Even though my mom changed all the bills into her name, somehow the phone company hasn’t gotten around to fixing the data in the directory.

So every few days, I hear my father calling me. Though I know it’s really my mom.

When my dad was still with us, my parents would each pick up an extension, and we’d all talk together.

“Hi, Swooz,” he’d say when he got on. “What’s cookin’?”

For the last two years of his life my dad was so hard of hearing, we had to put the call on speakerphone.

So even then, if I heard “Call from “Willett, Norman,” it was nearly always my mom dialing. But the call was from them — Mom and Dad.

I could picture them in the kitchen with Wheel of Fortune in the background: “Mom, could you turn the TV off? It makes it hard to hear.”

Or in the bedroom: “You’re father’s right here, snoozing. Norm, wake up, Susan’s on the line.”

In the old days, before cell phones, before caller ID, before speed dial, one kept a physical address book — with entries always written in pencil in case someone moved. Then you’d erase the phone number and carefully write in the new one.

Back then, when someone died, I would cross his or her name out; I could never bring myself to erase the entry. That didn’t happen very often; a few distant great aunts or uncles, and eventually grandparents.

Now the names of friends and family live in the contacts list of my cell phone. And I’m old enough to know loss on a more personal level. But I still can’t bring myself to delete the names of people who are no longer with us.

My dad’s cell phone number is still there.

Dad on cell phone desk

And when I ask Siri to call my mom’s landline (She only turns the cell phone on “for emergencies”), I say, “Call Mom and Dad.” Even though I can change the label on that phone number so easily, I don’t want to.

Because every time I say, “Call Mom and Dad,” or hear the announcement “Call from Willett, Norman,” I think about my father. I think about the house where I grew up. I think about life.

And I think about how nothing stays the same. And we’re all here for a short time, but we never know just how short. And I am reminded to hug and love and treasure those who are still with us.

Until they — or we — become nothing more than ghosts in our machines.

Calvin gently sniffing my dad's hand.

A favorite photo of mine: Calvin and my dad share a special moment.

Read more about my dad:

What do you do? Do you delete the names of people who are gone?

17 Comments on "Ghosts in the Machine"

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  1. Memories of loved ones who have gone are the best way to keep them close

  2. Emmy says:

    It is so hard, Susan, and although it’s gets slightly less painful as the years go by, I still haven’t come to terms with losing my father 10 years ago. My father was also hard of hearing. When I worked in an office I shut my door to talk to him on the phone. Since my mother wasn’t alive, he would sometimes ask what he should wear to an event. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping my voice down until the fellow next door told me that he always got a laugh when he heard me through the walls: “POPPY, YOU DON’T HAVE TO WEAR A TIE!”

  3. Sowry fur yous loss. Mommy sez we shhuld live each day to da fullest as weez never purromissed tomowwo.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi

  4. Emma says:

    Technology does bring a whole new light on what to do when someone passes. Mom’s dad died before technology really exploded, so it wasn’t a real thing. We’ve never thought about changing names or numbers or emails if someone passes. I bet it is a bit comforting yet eerie to hear your dad calling. A year passes and it isn’t quite as hard without a loved one, but it will never be easy.

    • I think it’s eerie for other people, but not for me. Mostly because I got so used to the announcement meaning my mom was calling, and my dad would chime in. I’m sure my mom will eventually get after the phone company to fix it. I have a feeling I’ll really miss the announcement then.

  5. Purrs to you as you remember your father on this anniversary.

  6. Ruby says:

    Oh, that is such a bittersweet story. My Dad is hard of hearing, and never ever wears his hearing aids, so talking to him is challenging! He to uses the speakerphone and turns it WAY up to hear the person on the other end of the phone. I often hope he isn’t discussing anything personal, or all the neighbors could hear! I’m sendin’ you lots of {{hugs}} because sometimes, damn it, we need them! ☺
    Ruby ♥

  7. meowmeowmans says:

    Wow, Susan. That’s powerful stuff. What you’ve written resonates with me – I have messages and emails from my Aunt, who passed away three years ago. I just can never erase them.

  8. Annette @PetsAreFound says:

    We are so lucky to have simple cherished ‘pieces’ to keep & remind us of loved ones. Make sure you screenshot this though, so you can save it in case you lose your phone. My Dad has been gone 26 years & it was his birthday on Sunday, so I can understand how you were probably feeling on Saturday… even after 26yrs. The feeling never goes away, but it does get easier to live with. While I don’t have e-gifts like you, Bunny Allen & Michelle Wolff have, I am lucky to have a membership card which was the last thing my Dad signed & some other notes he made & kept in his wallet. They now travel everywhere with me in my wallet! Big hugs to you & everyone commenting here. Remember the good times, Annette x

  9. Beth says:

    My Dad passed away last February, I still have him listed as Dad in my cell phone. Every now and then I’ll pick up someone else’s phone (with the same case as mine) and I’m alway startled to see a text from Dad.

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