The headline in The New Yorker immediately caught my eye: “A Death in the Database.” The blog post by Amy Merrick tells of a family whose teenaged daughter died in a car crash last year and who received a promotional mailer from OfficeMax addressed to “Mike Seay/Daughter Killed in Car Crash/Or Current Business.”
I have never received such a blatant and hurtfully addressed piece of mail, but for several years after Elizabeth died, I was ambushed by mail addressed to her. She died when she was almost 16, and just before what would have been her 18th birthday, a flyer arrived from the health insurance company reminding her that she needed a physical that included a gynecological exam. I had canceled the health insurance two years before as I reported her death (again and again). Her doctors, who were local, canceled appointments without calling me and some wrote kind condolence letters, but the insurance company kept her in their database and continued to send mail.
Our daughter had ordered merchandise from an online camping supply company once, and five or six years after her death, we were surprised to receive a shipment addressed to her at our home address. It had been ordered, we found, by our daughter-in-law who shares the same first name but who then lived five hours away from here. She had given her correct address, but someone matched the name and sent the items to our address instead. It took several calls to clear up the snafu—it is still painful to explain to strangers that our daughter died—then a month later, a catalog from that company arrived in the mail addressed to our daughter at our address.
We have continued to receive other catalogs addressed to her for many years. I dutifully called or wrote asking the companies to remove her from the mailing list the first few years.
Just last week, 17 years and some change after her death, the mail included coupons from a national chain for beauty products addressed to my daughter. Long ago, I asked them to take her out of their database. (If I use them, will she remain in the database for another 17 years?)
The day after the coupons arrived in the mail, I received a heating fuel bill addressed to the estate of my mother at my address for $500+. When I called to explain that I had closed that account when my mother’s house was sold almost two years ago, the person was most apologetic. I asked why that account had not been removed from their active database after two years. The driver had chosen that account by mistake when he delivered the heating oil, and the new owners had not noticed the different account number when they received the bill.
If the mail delivery person notices how many pieces of mail we receive at our address that are not addressed to my husband and me, he would probably think we run a hostel or a hotel.
We receive mail addressed to the young man and the young woman who bought my mother’s house (offers of insurance, tanning bed sessions, grocery coupons)–because, I think, her property tax bills for the house came to my address for several years before she died.
We receive mail occasionally for each of our sons, neither of whom has lived at home for 15-20 years; we receive mail for a young woman who lived on our street but never with us; we received a large package marked as a coffee maker addressed to a new neighbor but with our street address at Christmas (I delivered that one to that family who were busy with a new baby and a toddler); we receive mail addressed to both of my parents, who died in 2003 and 2011—my mother still gets great coupons for eyeglasses; and we still receive mail addressed to my daughter all these years since 1996.
“Data mining” is disconcerting to say the least. So much information floating about in cyberspace. But I’m not sure that it’s just technology that makes this seem more impersonal. We want to be known, recognized, but we also want to think we have some privacy. Certainly I don’t want my daughter’s life to be forgotten, but it is not by junk mail that I want her to be remembered.
Even at our local library, my daughter was charged with overdue fines when she was about 8 years old. The fines belonged to another person who shared her name, an adult. And our daughter wrote to Her Royal Highness once to tell her that they shared the same name, though at least that person lived in a different country, and I don’t think we ever received mail intended for her.
As I grew up, my address was simply a route number and the town, no house number, no zip code. Another girl shared my same first and last name but she spelled the first name with one additional letter. We had the same rural route address although she lived 7-8 miles away. I am surprised that the mail delivery man usually delivered the correct mail to each of us—or at least I think he did.
Here’s the article from The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com .