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Loved ones' voices fade away with technology

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

When her 19-year-old daughter died of injuries suffered in a Mother's Day car crash five years ago, Lisa Moore sought comfort from the teenager's cellphone.

She would call daughter Alexis' phone number to listen to her greeting. Sometimes she'd leave a message, telling her daughter how much she loved her.

“Just because I got to hear her voice, I'm thinking, ‘I heard her.' It was like we had a conversation. That sounds crazy. It was like we had a conversation and I was OK,” the Terre Haute, Ind., resident said.

Moore and her husband, Tom, have spent $1,700 over the past five years to keep their daughter's cellphone service so they could preserve her voice. But now they're grieving again because the voice that provided solace has been silenced as part of a Sprint upgrade.

“I just relived this all over again because this part of me was just ripped out again. It's gone. Just like I'll never ever see her again, I'll never ever hear her voice on the telephone again,” said Lisa Moore, who discovered the deletion when she called the number after dreaming her daughter was alive in a hospital.

Technology has given families such as the Moores a way to hear their loved ones' voices long after they've passed, providing them some solace during the grieving process. But like they and so many others have suddenly learned, the voices aren't saved forever. Many people have discovered the voices unwittingly erased as part of a routine service upgrade to voicemail services.

Often, the shock comes suddenly: One day they dial in, and the voice is inexplicably gone.

Transferring voicemails from cellphones to computers can be done but is often a complicated process that requires special software or more advanced computer skills. People often assume the voicemail lives on the phone when in fact it lives in the carrier's server. Verizon Wireless spokesman Paul Macchia said the company has a deal with CBW Productions that allows customers to save greetings or voice mails to CD, cassette, or MP3.

Many of those who've lost access to loved ones' greetings never tried to transfer the messages because they were assured they would continue to exist so long as the accounts were current. Others have fallen victim to carrier policies that delete messages after 30 days unless they're saved again.

Dr. Holly Prigerson, director of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Center for Psychosocial Epidemiology and Outcomes Research and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has studied grief, said voice recordings can help people deal with their losses.

“The main issue of grief and bereavement is this thing that you love you lost a connection to,” she said. “You can't have that connection with someone you love. You pine and crave it.”

Losing the voice recording can cause feelings of grief to resurface, she said.

“It's like ripping open that psychological wound again emotionally by feeling that the loss is fresh and still hurts,” Prigerson said.

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