Every Wednesday

Every other Wednesday, I will post a reflection on the landscape of grief. This blog isn't just for widowers. It's for everyone who grieves. I want to encourage people to share their stories and compassion with each other, build up a community of support, and help everyone understand the trauma that death brings.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Grief and A.I.


Recently, I read an opinion piece that worried that people would begin to think A.I. systems (Artificial Intelligence) were alive. Not long ago, my friend Judy sent me an article about A.I. system were being programmed to respond like a dead loved one. 


While I would appreciate the chance to converse with my dead wife again, I found the proposal rather creepy. Judy did, too. What I think bothered me the most was that the automated system wouldn’t be the real person, but that it would become a substitute for real memories. I didn’t want to begin thinking it was sentient in any definition of the word. I wanted my memories of Ev to be what they were.


            A computer will never flutter its eyelashes, lean back in your arms, and it will never wholly kiss you, to paraphrase e. e. cummings.


I also wondered how much real-time, heart-stuff could be shared. Would A.I. have emotions, or would it be more like a therapist with the voice and face of my beloved? If it was real enough, and while it would be tempting to stay home all the time and dialogue with a computer-generated facsimile, I suspect that in time we would feel like we’d heard it all before and wish for something new and unexpected. Why not just create a new inhouse persona, like Alexa seems to be. Here I’d worry that this would replace our yearning to interact with real people.


But what I really want to talk about is how people act like A.I. beings when they encounter someone who is grieving. They tuck their emotions and vulnerability away, and pull out the Automatic Polite Responses: “Oh, that’s terrible!” “How horrible!” “She’s in a better place.” “It’s God’s plan.” “It will all work out in time, and you’ll be happy again, so don’t be sad.” 


People should be human and not act like a computer interface.


What grieving people want is for other people to speak honestly from their hearts, sharing what words of comfort they have, as well as their fear of saying something wrong. This is an ideal time when two people can connect and share human to human without having anything to prove. Being polite only identifies the door between us. To share compassion, you have to open the door and walk through.


A hologram rose is not a rose, and it does not smell as sweet.


Our whole world changes overnight with a death. If we didn’t know how fragile life was before, we now feel it in our bones. And if we weren’t aware of the compassion of people around us, we know it now because of some of them came, sat beside us, and helped us bear the weight of grief.


It is not healthy to isolate ourselves in boxes of the past. Staying closed up with our dead ones does them no good, and our lives will stagnate and gather dust. There are people who need help in our neighborhood, who need companionship and friends. Every morning, renew your foundation with your faith, with nature, and with the love of those who have passed on. Bundle all this up, go out among the living, and help them – the suffering, the lonely, the battered, and those slipping into despair.


Let the darkness of grief in, because it is real, because it is not as dark as you fear, and because there is light here.


I want to be surprised by life, not review and repeat what has already happened. Life should be an adventure, of trying things I’ve never done before. I want my friends to be open and honest, thoughtful and emotional. I want to dialogue about our differences so that I can learn from them. We can touch hands and hug each other. Computers can’t do that. I don’t want life to be a repeating algorithm of the past.


Before dying of brain cancer, Kerri Grote said, “Don’t let fear fuel your choices. Live fearlessly. Run TOWARDS life. Don’t worry about what people will think. Trust me, it doesn’t matter.” 

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