Address Book of the Dead

address book of the deadForget digital, I prefer my paper address book. Flipping through its pages I’m reminded of the extras I’ve added—birthdays, favorite colors, names of pets and tidbits like Wendy’s crazy about hedgehogs and P.J. has a thing for leopard prints.

My old book is shabby and worn, and every few years a friend gives me a new one. I thank her, then bury the book in the bottom of my underwear drawer. But there was a time when I would have used that new address book.

In my 20s and 30s my friends constantly moved, changed phone numbers, or got married, requiring near-monthly replacements.

In my 40s friends tended to stay put, and one book lasted the entire decade. But now in my 50s, the change has started up again, yet my friends aren’t moving or taking new names—they’re passing away.

My address book could be called The Book of the Dead. On some pages they out number the living. And this raises the question: Do I remove their names or leave them? This some this may sound morbid or maudlin or some other equally morose M-word, or at least like a Monty Python film—“Bring out your dead, bring out your dead.” But to me it’s a real dilemma. Intellectually I’m sure that purging their names is healthy, but emotionally—I can’t make myself do it.

I couldn’t be the only one gnashing teeth over this, so I asked how others handle it. One said, “I draw a big black X across the name.” One scrawls in red ink across the entry—Moved, Address Unknown. Another sticks an Avery label over the name so she can write over it. “It’s too depressing to see their names,” she said.

Though none of these methods appealed to me, talking about the problem did clarify my reluctance. It had nothing to do with the method of deleting—it had to do with letting go. It boiled down to: Do I want to forget the friends who are no longer here?

My answer was no. Finally I understood that simply because my departed friends can’t come to the phone right now doesn’t mean that they can’t come to me in my thoughts. So I’ve decided to leave my old address book exactly as is, and by making this conscious decision, seeing the names no longer saddens me. Now when I see them—I smile. I’d forgotten that Michael adored Puccini and swore his favorite color was puce, and that Sandy loved my lemon cookies and owned a mouse named Mr. Sparkle Whiskers.

Maybe this view is sappy and sentimental, but my friends—even those no longer here—will always be a part of my life and a part of my address book. And someday, when I’m unavailable by phone, I hope my friends will leave my name in their address books, and that they’ll look me up once in a while . . . and smile.