The Dead People’s Mail Edition

Buy a pre-sale copy of The Authenticity Experiment: Lessons From the Best & Worst Year of My Life and send me a copy of the receipt to kate at katecarrolldegutes dot com and I’ll send you one of the new chapters as a thank you gift.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Authenticity Experiment, the dead people’s mail edition.  The thing about dead people is that they still receive mail—lots and lots of mail.  Not simply catalogs and magazines, although Stef and my mother both still get a catalog called, “Modern Woman” which sells polyester pants and camp shirts, striped nylon blouses and house dresses, and those flat, black ballet shoes that large ladies always seem to put on their plump feet.

But there are repeated requests from AARP that both my mom and Stef receive now that their memberships have lapsed.  You’d think that AARP—one of the most powerful lobbying groups in DC, one of the largest providers of supplemental Medicare insurance—would know that my mother and my friend are dead.  But they seemed not to have noticed yet.  Or, to be entirely correct, the marketing department has not been informed of the demise of Mary Carroll DeGutes and Stefanie Messenger Rhodes.

Nor, should I point out, was Publisher’s Clearing House, a scam of a lottery that Stef entered monthly, if not weekly, for the last eight years of her life.  In fact, her filing cabinet held three metal hooked olive green file folders stuffed with proof of entry—in chronological order. Stef was nothing if not fastidious with her filing, a skill learned early in her work life at the Dubuque College of Osteopathy.

On the other hand, my mother’s subscriptions to Better Homes & Gardens, Readers Digest, and The Mayo Clinic Health Letter continue to show up in my mailbox each month.  Sometimes in the evening, when I feel the ennui of these past ten years wash over me, I’ll flip aimlessly through the pages of Better Homes & Gardens, looking, I suppose, for a design idea or a recipe.  But the heteronormative, cluttered cottages (costing upwards of $750K) bear no resemblance to my life and the recipes seem to always call for something out of a can or have too many net carbs.

Without fail, though, I always turn to the Reader’s Digest Section “It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power,” mostly to give myself an ego boost—although sometimes, if I’m truly honest, also to feel slightly superior.  Panoply, anachronism, vestigial? Please, I learned those words in during 5th Grade vocabulary studies at a public school in California.  I keep hoping I’ll find words like perspicacious or inchoate or verisimilitude—you know, one of those words I seem to always forget, must always look up in the dictionary, but that Rebecca Solnit throws around with ease. But no, Reader’s Digest, by its very nature, must aim for the middle and so here are imminent and eminent, fractal and fracture.

Ironically, Reader’s Digest instilled my love of all things nonfiction with their series “Drama In Real Life.”  As a kid, every month I devoured the stories, and then moved on to paperbacks such as Survive the Savage Sea and Alive: The Stories of the Andes Survivors.  I swear it’s why I can’t write fiction—because come on, real life is so much more.  Full stop.  So much more.

When my mother re-upped her subscriptions to Better Homes & Gardens and Reader’s Digest she said to me, “I have the feeling you’re going to be getting these long after I’m dead.”

Right she was, but I can’t seem to bring myself to cancel them.  I like the monthly reminder of my mother, am unsurprised that she knew she’d outlive the subscriptions, but also feel a pang of—what?—my own mortality, I suppose.  Am aware of the idea that I could outlive my own subscriptions to Bicycling Magazine and Bike and The Week and The New Yorker, Georgia Review, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction Magazine and The Writer’s Chronicle.  That someday someone is going to get all my subscriptions as well as the Athleta, REI, and Patagonia catalogs.

Will the PO forward the mail to my sister, Sue, or to my as yet unfound new partner, or to a friend? These are ideas we all must contemplate, but rarely like to consider.  How then shall we live knowing that “everything dies at last and too soon?”  What will we do with our “one wonderful and precious life?”

It’s ironic—or perhaps, actually not—that dead people’s mail makes me ask these questions that poets and psychologists and priests have been asking for eons.  But, that is what the mail does for me.  And I’ve started getting it earlier in the day so that I am reminded and have time to do the one thing I know I must do in order to live knowing that I will die—ride my bike or lift weights.  Because by healing the body, I heal my heart and mind, and that’s better than any home or garden.

#DarkAndLight #AuthenticityExperiment


  1. David Fritz said:

    You’re absolutely right! real life is what we call unbelievable and fiction is just no longer interesting after you realize how nonfiction is so outstanding and engrossing -I mean the story of the Russian czar Rachmaninoff being destroyed, his family drug out in the woods and killed -why that’s an amazing story !
    but my mom still gets mail and she’s been dead for 14 years But the weird thing and check me on this we still get phone calls for her from marketing companies interested in getting her purchase – medical call alert bracelets for example . Martha still gets KQED thank you for donating cards.

    May 26, 2017
  2. mary martin said:

    Oh, Dear God,Woman, you are so deep, so wonderfully full of complex and deliciously unexpected turns of thought, startlingly unique and profound conclusions, that I am on my knees in awe of your skill and your remarkable self.

    Love and admiration from the very bottom of my heart,


    May 26, 2017
  3. Bob Z. said:

    My mother died 5, maybe 6 years ago. Somehow her church, Unity, thought that instead of moving to a cemetery, she’d moved in with me. They’re still sending magazines. Now I’ve moved too, although not so radically. Not sure if they’ll follow me here or not.
    BTW – It isn’t that my mother wasn’t important to me. I just don’t tend to track deaths by year. I don’t usually remember the anniversaries of deaths.

    May 26, 2017
  4. Karen Rawson said:

    Just today, American Airlines Citibank AAdvantage offered young Andrew Rawson, never employed outside of his university in all of his 25 years, yet another credit card. I finally got the University to recognize he’s dead, not a donor, nor a participant in the upcoming reunion. Now I’ll deal with American and Citibank once I can get myself to deal with the title for his car, which sits idle by our driveway, since what 25 year old has a will, or has properly filed the title in a place his parents can find? Maybe there will come a day when mail addressed to him will give comfort, but for now it’s one more thing on my To Do list. I don’t want mail for the next 14 years. But for now I will trash it rather than deal with the cause of it.

    Andrew’s mail doesn’t make me philosophical. Rather, it makes me chastise myself for not having my OWN affairs in order, the will updated since his death and the 18th birthday of our 3rd child (yeah, didn’t do it after the 2nd one turned 18 either).

    May 26, 2017
  5. Karen Rawson said:

    His car insurance bill came Thursday. I was a little bit proud of him for having actually bought insurance within 30 days of receiving the car. 9 days before his death. So within an hour of receiving the notice that Geico was concerned that he hadn’t responded to any e-mail reminders, I not only called them but also sent them the required death certificate and got their word that they would remove him from their mailing list. They would also assess the situation and refund at least one month, or possibly up to 5.5 months, of his last (in fact his first ever( 6 month premium paid. It was a sign of being strong enough to handle such things when I acknowledged to myself how quickly I handled that. It wasn’t the most important thing, but hopefully it will keep it from ever coming up again. Unlike the car. Which still sit with New Mexico plates.

    June 30, 2017

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