Cleaning Dead People Out Of My Phone

Struggling to erase the missives of people I loved and lost.

Woman deleting past loved ones messages from her phone pixelshot, Lisa Fotios | Canva

The messages I saved of my mother’s are bad — poor quality and nonsensical.

I should have been more mindful before arbitrarily deleting the good ones. She was constantly getting rid of things, and her decluttering energy must have rubbed off on me. In both saved messages, she sounded as if her phone was across the room from where she was, and she was confused by it. She spoke into the void and asked me to call her back, not fully trusting the phone to convey her request.


We bought her a smartphone, the one made for seniors, but she couldn’t figure it out. Voice messages were as tech as she got, and even then, she still didn’t master them. The saved calls aren’t emotionally moving and give no clues to the mysteries of our relationship.

I’ll never forget the tone and timber of the many “Christine, call me back, it’s your mother” messages that play on repeat in my head. So, I have no problem deleting those two messages. 


Do y’all keep voicemails from loved ones that have passed on and how do you feel when you hear them? I don’t even know how to explain. I guess bittersweet is best description of how I feel.

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On the other hand, I’ll leave the two years of detailed texts from my mother’s caregivers. Though I don’t need to be reminded of her decreasing appetite or ability to chew and swallow, there’s something comforting about remembering her days and how they were spent before she slept her way into eternity.


My mother got joy from looking out her window and watching the trees sway in the wind, listening to the birds carry on long conversations, and witnessing the squirrels stuff their faces with the peanuts she provided. Since my mother lost her ability to tell me her moments of happiness, I relied on her caregivers to report them to me. Their texts comfort me still.

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Texts from Trish

Trish went from my psychic to my psychic friend. She was the kindest person I’ll ever know. She had Multiple Sclerosis, her health wasn’t great, and she was in her seventies. Still, her death knocked me off balance, and I haven’t righted myself completely since. 

Her death shouldn’t have been a complete shock. Our mutual friend, Penelope, told me Trish was in the hospital. I brushed it off, figuring Trish had been hospitalized before and sent home. I assumed this visit was like the rest — only, this time, she didn’t get better.


She was an empath/psychic, so did she know she wasn’t long for the world? If so, why didn’t she warn us? Though, I’m not sure it would have lessened the pain of her dying. After my cat Yoshi died in June of 2020, Trish sent me this text:

“Been thinking of you a couple of times every day. How are you doing? This is like losing a child … I don’t care what anyone says … it just is. The only words that ever help me, I hope will help you. The pain you feel is the price you pay for the love you’ve had. Put it that way, it makes the pain so worth it. Love you dearly.”

One of the last texts I got from Trish was a response to me complaining about my mother and her lack of mothering. 

“Just love her the best you can and let the rest go. You will work it out together between lifetimes.”


I’m not ready to let Trish or her words go, so her texts will remain.

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Cynthia’s emails

Cynthia didn’t die in the last seven months like my mom and Trish, but her presence continues to be strong. Although undiagnosed, I believe Cynthia suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. She’d be having a nice time and then suddenly blow up at whoever was her target. It was frightening to witness, but even worse when the person she was screaming at was you.


She was my mentor, my friend, and, at times, a mother figure. She instinctively knew not to vent her frustrations and anger at me, and I was only on the receiving end of her anger once. It was towards the end of her life, and Andy and I had brought her with us to a spoken word show. She was on oxygen, and we sat in front of the cafe before the performance.

A bar was next door, and a man came out to smoke a cigarette. Cynthia immediately shouted at him to stop smoking. A few words were exchanged, and he put out his cigarette and returned to the bar.

“Go over there and tell him to stop smoking,” Cynthia told me.

“No, he stopped and is not even out there anymore.”


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I don’t know if she wanted me to seek him out in the bar and yell at him again or if she was hallucinating him still puffing away outside, but she got furious and started screaming at me while a crowd gathered around us. After spewing vitriol at me, she demanded that Andy take her home.

I was shaking, all the blood had drained from my face, and I felt like I might faint. The next day, I got a brief email from Cynthia that I still have on my phone.

The subject line read, “An apology,” in the email, she wrote: 


“I am so sorry I yelled at you yesterday. It was an inappropriate response to my mounting agitation. It was wrong of me to expect you to do something you weren’t comfortable with. Sometimes, I forget that and expect everyone to behave like me. I hope you will accept this heartfelt apology. The pressure I am under often explodes like a volcano, and it’s hard to turn off the lava flow or control its direction. I do love you.”

So, no, I’m not deleting that email.

Getting rid of the last electronic traces of these women, who were mothers to me, is harder than I thought it would be. For now, I’m leaving them on my phone so I have access to them in my grief. These women may be gone, but that doesn’t mean their love is.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.