Alive & Well

News of My Death Precedes Me

By Norris Burkes
November 2018

I have good news for all of you. Most of you, that is.

I’m not dead.

Apparently, a few of my readers thought, as evidenced by the voicemail I received this past week, that I was singing in the celestial choir.

Lorelei, a nice woman from Lodi, reported that she’d sent a donation for my daughter’s charity, Chispa Project, which starts children’s libraries in Honduras. However, the post office returned it stamped, “Recipient Deceased.”

We played phone tag, so I left a message in my best ghost voice, “I’m not dead!”

Truthfully, I’m a bit worried that I may be responsible for starting this “false narrative.”

One day back in 2004, I stood at my Elk Grove mailbox extracting tons of junk mail addressed to me. Normally, I’d trash most of it, but with so much identity theft, I was worried that someone might want to become Norris Burkes.

So I began following the advice of consumer advocates and brought it inside to shred. However, with all the unsolicited credit card applications I received on a daily basis, my shredder was on its last leg.

Like most of you, I was tired of sifting through mounds of credit card offers. I started wondering what it might be like if I could obtain the coveted designation, “deceased recipient.”

No, I wasn’t going to fake my death so my wife could collect the life insurance. Nor was I planning the really convincing kind of demise where folks would actually bury me. But maybe, I thought, there was a kind of heaven where I would no longer get travel brochures, carwash deals or credit card applications.

That’s when the deceit began. Standing right there at the mailbox, I tore open a credit card application. I grabbed the return envelope and scrawled “DECEASED. RETURN TO SENDER.”

I thought about smearing catsup on the envelope, but I didn’t want the United States postal inspectors charging me with sending biohazards through the mail. Without further drama, I dropped it in the community mail slot and raised the flag.

I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t you a chaplain? Isn’t telling people you’re dead kind of like lying?”

Honestly, I gave it some consideration.

But at the time I thought maybe it wasn’t really lying. Maybe it was simply telling the truth early. It was an advanced level of truth telling. Yeah, that sounded even better—Advanced Truth Telling.

The ATT philosophy was much like the motivational speakers of the day who urged their audience to simply “Announce what you believe and act as though it’s true.” Or like the televangelists who would say, “Name it and claim it.”

Here’s how ATT worked in my case: I believed that one day I’d be dead. I asserted it in my heart and, voila, one day it would likely become true. So that wasn’t really lying, right? Again, it was more like anticipating the truth ahead of time.

I repeated this act several more times until I felt a pang of conscience that caused me to stop. Still, I’m more than pleased that the junk mail slackened significantly.

Of course, now I have another problem. Not only were a few contributions returned, it seems that my wife is getting phone solicitations for my burial plots. Fortunately, she usually stops those callers by asking, “Yes, but can I use your prepaid envelope to send his ashes?”

Norris Burkes can be reached at


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