My father-in-law passed beyond the reach of the U.S. Postal Service almost 10 years ago, and yet his mail keeps coming. The world of the living, and especially the world of solicitation, still reaches out to him. This time of year they are most insistent.
When he moved into a rest home near the end of his life, my father-in-law’s mail was forwarded to our house. He was not a rich man, but gauging by his mail, he gave to many charities over his long adulthood. Charities for veterans, animal welfare (wild and captive), national and international human rights, religious freedom groups, political organizations and many childhood diseases. They all address him by name, sometimes in fancy calligraphy. They thank him for his continued loyalty and support and speak to him as a chum.
At first, I was touched by the influx of mail, and his generosity to the needy. After he died, I somberly wrote “deceased” on the unopened envelopes and left them for our mail carrier. I didn't think all those struggling do-gooder organizations would necessarily grieve my father-in-law's passing, but I assumed that once they realized how much of their own and the planet’s limited resources they were wasting on him, they'd cut it out.
But, no. His mail continued to arrive, making it clear that not one of the supplicants noticed his prolonged silence and inactivity, not to mention my scrawled explanation. Eventually, I got miffed on his behalf.
I called the main Los Angeles post office to see if maybe the return mail wasn’t getting back to its source. The answering recording offered me several other mail-related recordings to listen to, but the wait to speak to a live human was over an hour. I called my local post office next, and a helpful postal worker said mail marked "deceased" does, in fact, go back to the sender. My father-in-law's pen pals were getting the message but refusing to hear it.
My next step was the silent treatment, but that didn't slow the flow either. The calligraphed pleas, including calendars and notepads and tote bags, continued to arrive. There must be some not-for-profit rule – have address, never give up.
What’s a daughter-in-law to do? Write or call each organization in search of someone to expunge my father-in-law's name? Yes, I'm sure my call is very important to them and they are experiencing a higher volume of calls than usual, and they apologize for the inconvenience and my call will be answered by the next available associate. But, no.
Instead, I spent the next seven or eight years whisking the pleas from mailbox to recycling bin along with the grocery store, air-vent-cleaning and closet-organizing junk mail. But this year, the sheer lunacy and waste made that unendurable. I began stuffing all my father-in-law's solicitations into a designated drawer. My intention was to open the drawer around now and gather the family to discuss which charities to honor in his memory.
We inherited some of the largesse we can afford to dispense from my father-in-law, so it seems like he’s entitled to a vote. Of course, his worthy causes will have to compete with the rest of the family’s charitable priorities, guilts and passions. And there’s no knowing which petitioner he’d still care about versus the ones who muscled him unmercifully, to no avail. You can’t second-guess the dead.
Maybe we'll just blindfold his grandchildren and have them each pick an envelope out of the drawer, letting his genes make the selection. Too bad, though: The charities that win this game will have their never-give-up strategy confirmed. With enough hounding, even the dead pay up.