Download audio (MP3)
Message From Beyond
Stephanie Rapp gets an email from a beloved sister who died three years ago.
By Stephanie Rapp
I was perusing my emails at work the other day. As I scanned the 67 messages, one stopped me cold. There it was, my identical twin's name. I hadn't received a message from her in three years. Three years, 1 month and 20 days, to be exact. That is how long ago she died, alone, in an apartment across town.
It literally took my breath away, to see that oh-so-familiar name. What used to be a quotidian event, opening emails from her and sending replies, had morphed into a mystical, heart-stopping moment. I knew right away it was a phishing ploy, that someone had hacked into her account and was sending emails to everyone in her address book. But for an instant, I held out a perverse hope that she wasn't dead but had just left town, escaped to get herself together somewhere off the grid. And now, three years later, healthy and renewed, she was ready to be in contact. I knew that it couldn't be true. I had found her body that dark December evening and scattered her ashes on both coasts in the places she loved. Strange, though, how the heart can overcome the mind, how the desperate raw hope that we will see the people we loved again can overtake all reason.
I deleted the message because I didn't want to open a virus. I also didn't want to see my sister's name associated with a scam. It made me think about how our electronic lives live on and how they have the ability to pop up at any time. How unprotected the names of the deceased are in the electronic afterlife. I worried about how my parents would respond to seeing Maddy's name and whether they too held their breath for a moment, fingers poised above the keypad, fighting a battle between hope and reason, wanting to once more communicate with their daughter.
With a Perspective, I'm Stephanie Rapp.
Stephanie Rapp is a senior program officer for a San Francisco philanthropy.