Emails from the Dead

I had a story idea once about a teen girl who hacked old email accounts of deceased people.

Her purpose for hacking these accounts — besides the IT-driven creed of ‘because I can’ — was to read through the old emails of these people no longer among the living. She’d sift for hours upon days reading the back-and-forth personal correspondences of these emails that belonged to the dead, trying to understand their use of verbiage and strange writing tics so she could better convey who these people were in life and what type of personalities they had.

When she was confident of her mimicking, she would send emails out from these hacked accounts, pretending to be the deceased sending messages from the afterlife. She would get in touch with the dead’s closest acquaintances (names and email addresses gleaned from contact lists and inbox histories). Her messages included telling widows to find companionship; parents to not mourn; and children to grow up strong.

She would part her messages with, “I’ll always be here for you if you ever need to talk to me.”

Many of her attempts failed as email accounts were shut down, many of her messages blocked or left unanswered. Sometimes she’d get a reply from someone outraged, dejected or horrified: Is this some kind of sick joke? A lot of responses left brick walls she could not climb: If this is really you, what’s our son doing right now in Afghanistan?

But on the rare occasions where her fruits were answered properly, her reward came from those that wanted to believe they were talking to their lost loved one. Their replies back to her, timid and reluctant at first, had become hungry for more communication with each send. She’d respond eagerly, appeasing her audience. Perhaps there was a mutual ruse, but she felt good about herself and what she was doing. She was dishing out closure, be it false closure.

I chose not to write this one because of the big hero flaw and the fact that it really had no plot, but it reminded me of something I did while toiling social media the other day.

I knowingly sent a ‘Happy Birthday’ Facebook post to an old friend I knew that had died a few years ago, his page still active, however. I had no immediate explanation for why I did it. I just felt compelled to do it. Was I expecting this person who had passed on to check his Facebook page and go: Cool. Thanks?

Not really. But I had to send it anyway. Maybe this act has evolved into a form of cyber-shrine visit, for I wasn’t the only one that wished this dearly-departed a Happy Birthday. Nor am I the only one to engage in this type of act for just this one person. This is a common occurrence, an accepted behavior. Several messages go out daily online to or on behalf of the dead-long-past for the sake of loving remembrance.

The motives might be pure or for show, but it brings me back to that girl-hacker and what was pulling on her heart-strings when she’d read those messages to the departed, and how she’d taken on the other side and had become a virtual speaker for the dead, like Orson Scott Card turned Ender into later on. She wanted to give closure, peace and a validation of an afterlife.

Maybe we want to believe some or none of that, but something definitely pulls many of us in and makes us want to reach out and say to our lost loved ones: I am thinking of you right now, and I’m taking time out to remember you. I hope and wish you could hear me right now.

Imagine if we get an answer back.

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