December 22, 2010, 10 p.m.: The sound of my cell phone ringing from that night still haunts me. "Jordi, this is the Mahwah police. We're sorry, but your father was killed in a plane crash." I don't remember much from that moment on except folding into myself and crying "No! No! No!" The days following that conversation were filled with hundreds of texts and calls from people sending their condolences. How strange it was to have this outpouring of support come through the same vessel as the horrible news. I soon realized that I was overwhelmed with communication and needed to step away.
As a reporter by trade, I almost considered my cell phone another appendage of mine. I could scroll through my text message list at any time and count close to 20 half-hearted conversations; I would jump at the reverberation of my cell on my desk or fire back texts within second of receiving them. But, after that fateful call, I found myself less fastened to the physical device and the instant connection it provides, and more attached to speaking with a handful of friends and family in person. The grief process is one that requires a great deal of self-reflection and outward projection, both of which take time and energy. I found it impossible to take care of myself and simultaneously be digitally connected to numerous acquaintances. I handed my phone over to my boyfriend, stayed off Facebook and ignored emails. The time I once took to carry on multiple conversations via text was now devoted to talking with my family, a few friends and yes, a therapist.
While I hope not everyone will have to experience the tremendous loss I dealt with, we all need to take some "me" time and filter out the spam of life. With instant access to one another via cell phones, text messages, emails, etc. it seems we have lost the deeper connection within this immediate connection. I wasn't as close to the ones I loved because my energy that could be focused on them was given to superfluous others. Once I made the decision to put down my phone and opt for more in-depth in-person conversations with a few important people, I saw our once weakened bonds strengthen and grow. I was able to learn new history about my father and family, understand my sisters' daily troubles, listen to my mom's fears about the future and appreciate the individuality of my friends.
Studies report that college students send an average of 109.5 text messages a day, receiving just as many and check their cell phones on average 60 times a day. How many of the people you are "chatting" with would you actually pick up the phone and call or set up a time to meet? A handful of meaningful conversations, I suggest, can always outweigh daily sporadic connections in terms of fostering important relationships with others and ourselves. This may mean weeding out people from your life and becoming less available. Given the constantly connected obsessed society in which we live, this may seem like a difficult task. You may find yourself thinking, "What am I missing?" "What if I don't respond to a message from work?" "How will I maintain my relationships?" These same thoughts fluttered through my mind, but over the course of the past two years of disconnecting and focusing on just a few key relationships, I was able to come out of my cloud of grief stronger and less bogged down by futile social interactions. Ask yourself: How much more connected can I be with those who matter if I disconnect from those who don't?
Now, exactly two years and two weeks after hearing the voice of that police officer on the phone I received another call. "Jordi, catch the first train out of the city. You're going to be an aunt!" The sheer joy that transpired upon hearing those words was the perfect ending to my two-year journey. Grief is a never-ending process, but the pain can subside as key relationships can bloom. I now feel closer to my family and friends, and have no problem putting the phone down to be fully immersed in those precious moments with my niece and family. By communicating less you set yourself up for more impactful connections. It's important to disconnect in order to reconnect.
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