As you know from my last post, my younger brother Aaron died of cancer around three months ago.

Aaron is gone now. I miss him.

I don't want to rehash that whole thing here. Rather, this post is a rant about a comparatively minor thing that totally ruined my day, a thing where tech and grief intersect and make my life just that much more difficult. Part of my grieving process, you might say.

Aaron had a phone, a very nice Samsung s20 FE, and since he is gone we no longer have any use for it. Frankly, I want it out of my house; it's sat in my drawer as an ugly reminder of my loss for weeks now.

My sister-in-law (we'll call her T) needed a phone, so, with the permission of our parents, we are working on giving Aaron's phone to T. We have Verizon, and T has Metro. So we need to get the phone transferred to her network. Shouldn't be too big a problem, right?


I knew that the phone had to be released, in some way, from Verizon's network. I called them up and asked them what I needed to do to transfer the phone to someone else (this was my first mistake). They gave me a transfer pin and said the phone was ready to go.

We took that transfer pin to Metro's store, where we were told, in no uncertain terms, that the phone was locked to Verizon's network and Metro couldn't do anything until Verizon unlocked the phone. The transfer pin was only so T could keep the phone's original phone number, which T did not want to do (thank goodness, I don't think I would've handled that well).

Turns out, when I called Verizon, I didn't specify that T was on a different network, and the Verizon call rep assumed the new owner of the phone were also on Verizon. They did not tell me, or ask me, if the new owner was on a different network.

Most cell phones nowadays are apparently locked to their carriers' networks, for varying lengths of time. The phone literally cannot be used with any other network unless it is unlocked from its prior one. We did not know this, and it took the very nice lady at the counter at Metro to tell us.

Which meant that we now had to go to a Verizon store to attempt to unlock the phone.

The fact that phones were locked at all was surprising news to the Verizon rep. He told me that in three years working there, he hadn't heard of this situation. He told me the only thing we could do was call the central call center and have them unlock the phone, but since it was late on a Sunday, the call center was closed, and we'd have to wait until tomorrow. T, at this point, has been without a phone for a week.

So, the next day, I called the call center. The new phone rep said the phone was already unlocked, or at least that's what her system showed her. She said Verizon locks their phones for just 60 days, and Aaron had that phone for much longer than that. I currently have a ticket open with Verizon to find out what exactly is going on, but it'll take 3-5 business days to resolve, and in the meantime, T has to go without a phone.

And, in the meantime, I'm stuck with this totem of loss, this reminder of Aaron's death.

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Who knew a black mirror could be so hurtful? Photo by Shiwa ID / Unsplash

For good or for ill, I want it gone. I want to not see it and feel the hurt anymore. It's just a stupid phone, I logically know this, but it hurts to look at, because it was his. He was a contrarian; he bought the Samsung specifically because everyone else had iPhones; that was just how he was. And I miss that, miss him.

Let's be clear: part of this process being so difficult is my fault. I stalled for a long time on calling Verizon, because despite how much I don't want that phone in my drawer, I also don't want to lose it. It feels like losing a piece of Aaron. I know, I know, it's an inanimate object, it's not my brother. But it was his.

This whole process has felt utterly stupid, utterly disconnected from how people live their lives, grieve their sadness. It's just a phone, and I want it gone and I want it near and trying to get it to the person that needs it has taken a week and two unfruitful trips. And I know it's dumb and shortsighted to take a single instance, one where I personally fell through some kind of crack during my grief and draw some big conclusion.

But, at least for me, when tech and grief collide, the result is inhuman.

Thanks for letting me rant. I'll be back. - Matthew