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Write to the Dead–Don’t!

In response to last week’s post, “When Messaging Is Mindless,” Arjay shared this comment:

After the death of a family member, we had to work out some insurance issues related to the end-of-life care. We received multiple letters from the insurance company, addressed directly to the deceased person, with the complimentary close of “We wish you good health!” I know it’s just a form letter, but it was somewhat jarring to say the least.

Can you imagine how Arjay and Arjay’s family felt when they read the closing “We wish you good health,” written to their dead relative?

Like Arjay, I have received letters to a deceased family member, even though I have informed the organization in writing of his passing. I still receive them. I feel a pang when I receive letters to my father, who died 21 months ago.

I also received a rather stern reminder from our city agency that we had not renewed our dog’s license. Meanwhile, the poor dog had died months earlier at 14 years of age. We had told the city agency–again, in writing–that Chica had died.

Why do organizations not pay special attention when death touches a customer’s family? Simple mistakes like addressing the wrong person or sending the wrong message cause pain when they involve death and loss.

Are you in a business that communicates with customers through form letters or automatic messages? If so, how do you avoid writing to someone who has died? And–as in the situation with my deceased dog–how do you avoid irritating people who have experienced the death of a loved one?

Please share your examples or thoughts.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “Write to the Dead–Don’t!”

  • That has got to be very painful and annoying. The same goes for changes of address. If I notify a company several times, in writing and via phone, that I moved it’s frustrating when they keep sending mail to my old place. Something to think about.
    Great blog, I look forward to reading each new article!

  • When the person or agency hasn’t been told of the death, you have to forgive them. When they have been told, however, and they persist on intruding on your grief in an insensitive way, I think you are entitled to your outrage.

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