Return to Sender: Deceased

Return to Sender: Deceased

Kate Wolffe, Staff Writer

This letter is addressed to someone who is dead.

When you look at the name on the envelope, whether the contents itself are a public service announcement, a letter from an old friend, or perhaps something as inconsequential as a survey, a little battle wages inside you. One side wishes with a ferocious rage to throw it in the bin, curse the sender for not knowing about this terrible loss that’s befallen you, even if the time that your loved one has been gone can be measured in years. The other side wants to steal it away, tear it open and devour the words that may have been merely skimmed over by the intended recipient. For even though you have no way of truly knowing how they would’ve reacted to this small folded piece of paper, you smile, thinking of their possible excitement, sorrow, or indifference. Imagining the emotions they would have felt cancels out the blatant truth that they can no longer feel anything.

Though part of you is thankful for the letter, you feel guilty about reading it all the same. It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s illegal to read other people’s mail, for the only person that would care no longer exists, but more of the fact that you’re violating some unspoken moral code. These words were meant for someone else’s eyes.
Perversely, you think that this shouldn’t still be happening. Aren’t you done? They’ve gone, they should leave no vestiges that pierce your heart again and again. It’s not fair to you.  Though one side of you is bitter about it, you’re also so glad, so grateful, for these small reminders, these little bittersweet pinches that remind you that they were here once, in your life, even if they aren’t any longer.

You imagine what this day would have been like, in an alternate universe, in which they are still alive. Would they have collected the mail instead? Flipped through it distractedly while you told them of the hilarious antics of a boy in your English class, the giant load of Chemistry homework you had tonight. Normal things, everyday things. And they would just be reading a normal letter. If there was no significance to it, perhaps they’d set it aside, suggest getting dinner started. The letter would lay on the counter, forgotten until it was rediscovered later in the week, buried under a pile of mail of the same nature. In this alternate universe it wouldn’t be the object of a heart-wrenching dilemma; wouldn’t be pored over, mulled through, and thought over incessantly. It wouldn’t end up tear-stained and crinkled, the tragic victim to misplaced anger and sorrow. Putting it in the recycling bin wouldn’t fill your heart with a cold fire. You wouldn’t feel the shameful need to shred it, in case any other members of your family see it.

It would just be a letter.

This doesn’t happen always, you’d like to think that you’re jaded now. Seeing a letter addressed to them puts a twinge in your heart, but you can handle it. But the grief hits at unexpected times, powerfully. This is when the battle commences.