Digital Vigilance

One columnist reflects on her relationship with her mother near the end of her life

Feature by Emily Benita | 16 Apr 2019
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“Phone, broken,” says Mum, squinting at her iPhone 4. I take it from her to give it my own assessment, the bright turquoise and pink plastic case smooth and cold in my palm.

“What’s wrong with it, Ma?” 

“Stuck in loop. Messages. Won’t send.” Mum sinks into her chair to recover from the effort of saying this sentence. There is a text waiting in the composition box to Mum’s friend, a local healer supplying her with aromatherapy sprays and herbal tinctures. I scroll through the previous exchange gingerly. On the left-hand side, greyed-out boxes filled with angel and heart emojis, spiritual bon mots. On the right-hand side, royal-blue boxes that just say, “Thanks” or “Ok”. I’m annoyed with the autocorrect for not stylising OK properly. That’s what it's for. 

The message that’s sitting in the inbox has a bit more to it this time. I press send. “Delivered” fades into view.

“It sent that time, Ma.”


Supporting Mum’s dignity whilst her faculties are rapidly dismantled by cancer is a delicate balance. I used to pride myself on being perceptive to others’ needs. But I’m at a loss. I’m witnessing loss. I’m bracing myself for loss. I repeat the word so much that I stretch it out. It becomes bland and tacky, like an over chewed piece of gum. There is nothing wrong with Mum’s phone. She doesn’t have the strength in her hand after taking ten minutes to write a short text to hit 'Send' with the pressure required. Do I tell her the truth? She always wanted the facts so she could make up her own mind. 

My opinion on technology and progress waxes and wanes with each hour. I’ve bought myself an iPhone X. Mum has given me some money, more money than I’ve ever had in a bank account, for the last reason I’ve ever wanted it. If you think life admin is hard, try death admin. The occupational therapists have brought in mechanised beds and chairs. Steroids stop Mum from being sick so we can eat pistachio gelato together without consequence.

Meanwhile, I take a spin on the wheel of misfortune that is Tinder. I play pointless games. I listen to podcasts. I don’t leave her side. I send texts from her phone to mine, just to make sure.


'1 New Message.'

“You’re right, Ma. It’s broken. I’ll fix it.”