Marcus Barber
Mar 25, 2016 · 4 min read

Your Bereavement Period Ends in 28 Days…

Death is hard. Watching it, talking about it, experiencing it.

And it’s fair to say that some societies cope with death better than others. As do individuals. Some willingly talk about the impact of losing a loved one or facing their own finality and others deny all knowledge. And no matter how we approach it, it seems to me that Death is Hard.

Equally hard is dealing with the supposed time frames of bereavement. How long should we mourn for? Is a few weeks okay before life turns to a new normal, or do I as an individual/do we as a society, ‘demand’ a socially acceptable time frame?

Should I be ‘over it’ in a year? Do I wear black? Do I stop going to those places we used to share, or seeing the friends we used to see? And how exactly should I go about this idea of Mourning?

How Do I Cope?

In the modern world one way we cope is digital media. We watch old videos on a VHS machine; we look at photos, we re-read and re-read and re-read those letters and cards. We watch over and over those vignettes we captured on our phones. But of all the things that seem to make an impact beyond the ability to physically touch someone we have lost, is to HEAR their voice.

And because of the ubiquitous nature of mobile phones, so many of us have the ability to hear the sound of someone we love and miss. The sound is soothing, heart wrenching, painful, calming.

Vale the Voice Message

What stuns me is that in this time of free storage of just about anything, a mobile phone company would hold arbitrary limits on how long we can keep our phone messages.

I’ve just learned that our phone company have set times for saving voice messages. It’s the first I’d known about it

Here in Australia my wife has just discovered that stored voice messages from her sister who died Christmas time one year ago, have been deleted by the Optus phone network. Now let’s be clear about what this means — my wife’s approach to bereavement and desire to hear her sister’s voice has been dictated to by an arbitrary set of (inherently outdated) rules set by the phone company. What Optus have determined is that 10 days is long enough for you to bereave if you have listened to the message, OR we’ll give you 28 days to get over it if you haven’t and then after that, we’ll wipe the lot.

My wife has been dealt a huge personal penalty because she hadn’t listened to those voice messages from her sister within the 10 day period. Had she done so, they would have triggered another 10 day ‘grace period’. It turns out she’d be listening to them consistently over the year, not knowing how precariously unsafe they were.

I’m sure it’d be the same for the other two main carriers here in Australia — Telstra and Vodafone, and I’m sure that every other Telco company around the world probably treats their customers’ personal data with the same level of brutal disinterest.

No warning, no automated text about their pending removal, just a buried ‘terms and conditions’ line somewhere in a contract…

So whilst you now have the ability to save terabytes of data to the cloud, our phone carrier Optus can’t store a literal matchbox sized data packet in the form of personal voice messages.

I contacted Optus who put me onto their tech team to see what could be done for recovery.

A conversation of about 30 minutes started off with the usual ‘I hear you and want to help so let me see what I can find out’ response, which then moved into a ‘let me chat to the supervisor’ response. It started off like they were willing to assist. But when an easy option wasn’t available things got a little tougher and then became the ‘here’s the terms and conditions’ response.

I get it. The last thing the telco wants to do is to deal with a single personal issue, one on one customer like. So a one size fits all approach works best. And hey, data storage USED to be expensive and those now outdated business models made sense once.

When I pointed out that whilst I appreciated the standard terms and conditions, this wasn’t a standard request and that Optus probably needed to hold data for a number of years because it may need to be accessed by law enforcement agencies; and then asked what I could do to find out where that data was being stored and then retrieve it? I was told ‘You’d need to contact our legal department to talk to them’. Which was fair enough I guess.

So when I asked who to contact I was told ‘You’d first need to get a court order’.

So what I now understand is that:

  • Telco’s probably have no serious desire in letting you control your own data;
  • The Voice messages to my wife from her sister probably still exist somewhere;
  • That getting our Telco to do the right thing will require us to have a legal cattle prod attached to an Optus body part.
  • It’ll be costly and personally painful to do so

Dealing with Death is Painful enough at the best of times and being forced to jump through hoops by a Telco because they have arbitrarily deleted your OWN information is brutal. Being dictated to about how you choose to grieve and mourn is callous.

Your Bereavement Period ends in 28 days…

Marcus Barber

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