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Artisanal Bereavement Spam

On the last day of shiva, this past June, we got a letter in the mail.  Just by looking at the envelope, I could see that it was a note of condolence, and from a nearby address to boot—yet the name was entirely unfamiliar.  When I opened it, I discovered a handwritten note that started with a perfunctory condolence and then immediately turned to extended proselytizing.  Enclosed was a religious tract specifically about the afterlife.

From the actual text, it was clear the person who wrote it didn’t know us at all, didn’t know the first thing about us or what we had just gone through.  They had simply trawled that week’s obituaries to get our names and address, and proselytized by mail.

I wish I were making this up.  But no, someone really did decide that the occasion of our daughter’s death was the perfect time to thrust their religious recruitment efforts into our lives.  Artisanal bereavement spam, basically.

I tweeted about it, leaving out identifying information, but otherwise let it go.  An unfortunate one-off, I figured; someone with more fervor than sense, not to be taken as representative of the group as a whole.

Except it just happened again.  Different person, same religion, same basic approach.  This letter isn’t as glaringly obvious about the obituary trawling, no hollow claims of sympathy or condolence this round, but the handwritten emphasis on seeing dead loved ones again makes it pretty obvious that this is of a piece.

DSC05033

So, yes.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses apparently think it is a fine idea to vulturously circle the misery of others and then swoop in to deposit a load of tract on the dining room tables of grieving families.  And what’s more, to keep doing it.

I disagree.  I don’t even beg to differ, I simply disagree.  If there were an opt-out mechanism, I would most certainly make use of it.  In so doing, I would include a number of comments regarding their apparent need to hide their intent with misdirection and to prey on the extreme pain and emotional vulnerability of others.  Since no such mechanism appears to exist, this post will have to do.

Of course, just as I did the first time this happened, I handled the note, the tracts, and the envelope itself with every bit of the care and respect they deserved.

DSC05053

I Googled around a bit and only found two posts about this practice (“Are Jehovah Witness Members Trolling Obituaries for New Recruits?” (2009), “Letters from Jehovah’s Witnesses” (2013).  Well, here’s a third, this one backed up with visual evidence.

I’m posting this in case others experience the same thing and wonder if they caught a lone crazy.  I’m sorry, but no, they aren’t “lone”.  If you got one, you may well get more.  I very much wish it were otherwise.

Nine Responses»

    • #1
    • Comment
    • Tue 26 Aug 2014
    • 1034
    rendered speechless (@dharawal) wrote in to say...

    That is wrong on so many levels that I do not even know where to start.

    • #2
    • Comment
    • Tue 26 Aug 2014
    • 1044
    Kevin wrote in to say...

    I think it was Jesus who said, “Kick them while they’re down.”

    • #3
    • Comment
    • Tue 26 Aug 2014
    • 1115
    Jeff wrote in to say...

    Eric, as saddening as this is to me, I recently had an encounter with Jehovah’s Witnesses that gave me great pause. There was a knock on our front door. As the resident male in my family I am the one who is tasked with answering the door to strangers. Standing there was a boy of about 5 or 6. Standing proudly behind him was his father. The boy delivered his memorized dictum and quite a speech it was filled with Biblical quotes about the afterlife, et. al.

    Ordinarily, I stop someone in mid sentence to tell them I wasn’t interested. But in this case, I listened intently and focused as he spoke: not because I was interested in what he had to say but because I was concerned for this child and wanted to at least respect him as a model of what he deserved as a human being. It was very odd but I was clear to myself what my intent was.

    I am so sorry you and your family have had to deal with this multiple times. I tend to want to right things in any way I can. And, I would call the offices of the local JW and complain. Setting fire to those notes may be just what you need. But, if they were writing me, I would feel just as compelled to let them know how I felt to be assaulted in that way.

    • #4
    • Comment
    • Thu 28 Aug 2014
    • 1241
    Arti wrote in to say...

    thank you for saying this out loud. when this happened to me after my daughter’s death, it crushed my already spiraling spirituality.

    i used to be so open to all religions before. now i abhor the fear mongering and guilt tripping they engender with a depth that still surprises me.

    • #5
    • Comment
    • Mon 22 Sep 2014
    • 1840
    Teri wrote in to say...

    Eric, I’ve always admired your knowledge of CSS and so I looked for your webpage as I think of you as the CSS guru.

    I was shocked to learn about your daughter’s passing, but I was enlightened to see that you are writing about and sharing your love, pain and sorrow. Nothing is worse than losing a child…nothing.

    From various stories I’ve heard about JWs. They are creating a lot of damage within families of those weak souls who are looking to ease their personal pain. Therefore, I was not shocked to hear your story – angry, yes, – surprised, no.

    I learned nearly 30 years ago that spirituality and religion are not the same. Some religions show the way to the spirit, and some religions do not.

    In reading some of you writings, I understand that you and your wife have two other children. Bless you all. I know that you continue to celebrate those still living. Life, here, is very precious and short. And, I know that Rebecca is never gone as long as there is always someone who remembers her in their heart.
    God Bless You.

    • #6
    • Comment
    • Mon 13 Oct 2014
    • 1435
    rs wrote in to say...

    I’m just seeing this now, but my family experienced the same thing after my father died suddenly last year. Several proselytizing “condolences” in the mail, all of which were offensive to us and to his memory.

    • #7
    • Comment
    • Mon 20 Oct 2014
    • 0608
    Paul Kirkaas wrote in to say...

    Hi Eric,

    I commented once earlier, before your daughter died, but when you knew she was dying. I have three daughters myself, and honestly can’t imagine – or only imagine – what that is like and again I am so, so sorry for your loss.

    I am personally so very not religious at all, and believe religion has been the cause of so much harm throughout the history of the world.

    But I have also known people of various faiths who were very sincere and caring and convinced that their way was the way to salvation.

    I don’t know if I’m right or it gives any comfort or perspective, but consider the possibility that these proselytizers are not predators, trying to get you to vote for one political party or buy a particular brand. They truly believe theirs is the way and try to help.

    I used to be a totally fanatical anti-religious zealot. I’m still totally anti-religious, but not as fanatical. Just because I’ve come to know some people whom I totally disagree with, but totally recognize their sincerity and good intentions.

    I don’t know if that means anything. Just suggesting some of these people might truly believe they are helping you find the “true way”, rather than just cynically preying on your grief.

    • #8
    • Comment
    • Wed 5 Nov 2014
    • 0140
    Owen Kindig wrote in to say...

    Eric, I just discovered your blog while researching “active whitespace”… a term that should have already been familiar to me, but had escaped my notice through 10 years as an advertising typographer and 25 years as a filmmaker, photographer, and occasional writer. I’m very impressed with your work and appreciate your

    Almost immediately, I discovered the tragic loss of your daughter, Rebecca. This weekend I had just returned from the marriage of my second daughter, also named Rebecca. My heart goes out to you.

    And I’m also ashamed to admit that I have engaged in proselytizing using that very method. Probably 40 years ago I helped produce a booklet called Comfort and Consolation that was distributed in that way… by mailings to family members who had lost a loved one. It took me years to figure out what was offensive about this practice. It was not that my fellowship’s message hinted at guilt… it presented the notion that everyone who has died will come back. Nor was it predatory… there was no desire or expectation of material gain that might come from new members … since the church never collected money or paid any of its leaders. I don’t even think it was insensitive. Each of us was motivated by sincere sympathy for the grieving people, and only wished to share a message that was encouraging to us. And often, we received thank-yous to the effect that folks WERE comforted.

    Still, I stopped engaging in that sort of “marketing” because I came to see that the ancient Jewish tradition of sitting “Shiva” was a better model of sensitivity. That custom involved quietly sitting near the grieving family, not offering any encouragement, not saying anything… just being there to silently show support … listening … and speaking only if spoken to by the grieving family members. Unless I know someone personally, it is usually better to leave them alone… or offer an anonymous gift.

    The sect of JWs believe that anyone in this time period of human history who is not baptized into the Watchtower organization will die eternally… so to them it is logical to risk offense to doomed people in order to save a few folks from destruction. Very similar to Baptist beliefs in the “lost” descending into eternal hell. Folks who believe those sorts of things are willing to break the rules of normal social interaction because they see themselves as hand-picked for a noble mission… to save a few. The paltry results of their efforts only fuel the zeal they feel for this task. And that’s why they are willing to shun anyone of their membership — even a spouse or their own children — who presume to think on their own. It’s a very self-reinforcing kind of behavior… and my background helps me be a little more understanding of the practitioners of these faiths.

    But I’m mildly ashamed of my own insensitivity, hoping it is primarily in the past … and quite sorry for the damage that continues to be done to folks like you who simply want to be respected and left alone to grieve in the ways that you choose. You deserve better than to be someone’s witnessing project.

    • #9
    • Comment
    • Wed 26 Nov 2014
    • 1332
    ex-jw wrote in to say...

    The part that bothers me the most is that there was a time when I would have, like them, thought that it was being helpful. The poor person who sent that crap to you is so brainwashed by a cult that they honestly think that they are doing a wonderful community service. I’m so sorry that you had to endure that but take comfort in the fact that some of us do wake up.
    an eX-JW

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