PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Featured: Top of Home Page

E-mails from the Dead

Image (partial) from Terry Cornall at BigPond.net

Like a cyber séance, of sorts, these Internet services have become a means for the dead to speak to the living.

Imagine sitting down to check your e-mail and finding a message from your mother, who died six months ago, telling you how much she loved you and reminding you that her cat is due to visit the vet. Sounds spooky? It doesn’t have to be. It may just mean that, before she died, your mother decided to take advantage of a posthumous e-mail service, which, for a reasonable fee, offers you the chance to show your loved ones how much (or how little) you cared by leaving them each an e-mail to be delivered after you pass on.

Posthumous e-mail services are an example of what has been described as the “transcendence industries”, enterprises that can be loosely divided into two categories: those that place emphasis on pragmatic issues, and those that cater to emotional fears and needs (though there is, of course, much overlap between the two). The practical services allow you to leave vital posthumous instructions for family and friends concerning such things as funeral arrangements, financial records, estate details, and insurance plans. An example of this kind of enterprise is YouDeparted.com (“Prepare for the unexpected”), whose website emphasizes that their service “isn't about social networking for the dead or sending scary messages from the grave”:

It's about organizing your life… Would your family know the details if something happened to you? How would they access your email and online accounts? Who would know to take care of all the things you were responsible for? Taxes? Insurance? Where is the will or trust? Where is the key to the safe deposit box? What is the combination to your gym locker?

Ironically, although the emphasis is on practical concerns, sites like YouDeparted rarely mention the word “death”, preferring such euphemisms as “if something should happen to you” or “when the time comes”. An interesting exception is DeathSwitch.com , a program invented by a psychiatry professor at Baylor University that lets you to ensure that after you die, encrypted details like computer passwords and bank account numbers are automatically transmitted to your pre-selected loved ones. It’s hard to measure the popularity of these “transcendence services”, not only because the names of users are kept confidential, but because, for obvious reasons, it’s impossible to obtain customer feedback.

YouDeparted does offer prospective clients a “User Testimonial” from “Charles, Tokyo, Japan”, who comments: “I live abroad and if something had happened to me before I started using YouDeparted I don't really know how my family would have sorted everything out.” Of course, Charles still doesn’t know how his family will “sort everything out”, if something happens to him, but having enrolled in YouDeparted, he presumably feels more confident that, “when the time comes”, all his papers will be in order.

Other sites offer posthumous services directed at emotional, rather than practical needs. Through such slogans as “you only die once”, and “tomorrow may never come”, sites like TheLastEmail.com,

LetterFromBeyond.com and PostExpression.com encourage users to prepare e-mails to be sent to after they die -- a even an old-fashioned letter, “a gift your loved ones will treasure for a lifetime.” “After departing,” we’re told, “a message from the grave can be a great relief to the ones you leave behind.”

Most of these sites are built around cheap-looking templates with formulaic imagery of old people looking happy and at peace. The one exception, PostExpression has the most clearly articulated vision, which can be summed up by the site’s slogan “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” In the words of the site’s founder, Irish software engineer Mark Wrafter, “PostExpression allows you to communicate with people after you've died,” a service which, according to the site’s promotional materials, is appropriate for everyone. If you leave friends and family behind when you die, PostExpression “gives you the opportunity to communicate final words of encouragement, confession and love.”

But the service offers other options, too, for those with more complex and ambivalent emotions. “If you have Loved and Lost,” urges PostExpression, “Tell that person how you feel about them.” Even if “you’ve been dealt a bad hand in life” and you’re probably going to die alone and unloved, you can still communicate with the world on the PostExpression Blog. a place for you to “let the world hear what you have to say”, giving you “that final flamboyant finale you so richly deserve.” To date, however, no such deserving soul has yet passed on, since the PostExpression blog remains an empty void.

PostExpression also addresses the intricate netiquette of virtual relationships, since, as Wrafter points out, “many people now have more friends online than off.” This service considers the posthumous needs of the techno-savvy, habitués of MySpace, LiveJournal, Flickr and other community-based sites, as well as online gamers who can spend years building up an in-game personality and maintaining virtual relationships. “People know you, engage with you, expect your presence. Suddenly you are gone. It’s inexplicable,” says Wrafter.

In cases like this, “PostExpression can be used to break the news of your death to members of your online or gaming community, sending them a posthumous message as group, with a separate message for your best friend, which could include your login details so they can maintain your profile or even take over your avatar, if you see fit.” After all, just because you’re rotting in the grave doesn’t mean your friends can’t go on having fun.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.