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Consumer Reports


Service offers chance to send message into the afterlife

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) Desperate to contact a deceased friend or relative? Did that last "I love you" go unsaid? Paul Kinsella thinks he can help.

Kinsella, 31, of New Athens, Ill., has devised an online service called AfterlifeTelegrams.com to try to deliver messages to the great beyond.

It works like this: For a $5-per-word fee, Kinsella gives your message to a terminally ill volunteer "messenger," who memorizes it with the idea that he will recite it to your loved one after he dies.

The money goes to charity or the messenger's family, unless the messenger elects to use it to cover medical expenses. If the messenger does not die within a year, the customer's money is refunded and the message is delivered for free.

Macabre? Maybe. In bad taste? Kinsella's detractors would say yes. Is Kinsella serious? Absolutely.

"It occurred to me that you actually could send a message that way," he said.

Kinsella, a stock clerk at a Value City furniture store in Swansea, Ill., said the idea came from the film "Blankman," a forgettable Damon Wayans vehicle from 1994. In one scene, Wayans' character asks the mayor of fictional Metro City, Ill., who is about to be blown up by gangsters, to deliver a message to his grandmother.

"Fortunately, the vast majority of us hardly ever run into people who are about to be blown up," Kinsella said. But what if a sporting volunteer could be found, Kinsella thought. Perhaps someone with a terminal illness who could carry messages to the afterlife - assuming, of course, that there is one. (More on this later.)

"It became clear to me that that was going to be the hardest part," he said. "I mean, how do you broach something like that? You can't tell how someone's going to react."

Relatives steered Kinsella to a family friend, a man in his early 50s with necrotizing pancreatitis, an atrophying of the pancreas brought on by diabetes. Kinsella called him, explained the idea and asked if he would agree to be his first messenger.

The man took a few days to think about it, then agreed on the condition that he remain anonymous. Through Kinsella, the messenger declined to be interviewed for this story.

Of course, Kinsella does not guarantee that your loved one actually will receive your message. "Since we cannot guarantee delivery nor prove that a telegram has been delivered, our customers do not pay for `deliveries,' they pay for `delivery attempts,' " Kinsella says in a disclaimer on his Web page of frequently asked questions.

In the interest of full disclosure, the Web site lists about a dozen reasons why messages may not be delivered. The list covers everything from reincarnation to the possible segregation of the deceased into heaven, hell and purgatory. (If this is the case, Kinsella conjectures that it may be possible to visit someone in hell. "Maybe it's like visiting someone in prison," he said.)

Finally, the disclaimer says, "We cannot rule out the possibility that there could be no afterlife at all."

Since its debut in January, the site has made the rounds of e-mail in-boxes around the country and has attracted the attention of news directors at National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.

So far, however, AfterlifeTelegrams.com has attracted more attention than it has business. Kinsella's only paying customer has been a Washington Post columnist, who paid to have a snotty message delivered to Adolf Hitler.

Kinsella, whose short, dark hair, boyish features and easy smile give him a passing resemblance to Tom Cruise, runs the site out of a cramped office in the modest, single-story house that he shares with his wife, Tabitha. The couple is expecting their first child in August.

Reaction to the site has been mixed, Kinsella acknowledged. Some online friends from a discussion group for Web designers "jumped on me like wolverines on raw meat," he said. The American Diabetes Association, where Kinsella's messenger has elected to send the proceeds, asked Kinsella to remove a link to their Web site from his home page.

Others, including Kinsella's family, have been more receptive. Kinsella said he does not exploit the dead, the dying or the bereaved. To ensure that his customers are clear-headed when they sign up for the service, Kinsella does not accept messages until their intended recipients have been dead for at least 30 days.

People who get offended at AfterlifeTelegrams.com are missing the point, or at least not reading the Web site carefully enough, Kinsella said.

"Charging $1,000 for a casket - talk about taking advantage of the grieving," Kinsella said. "'Don't you want the best for your loved one?' That I find offensive. I find that the people who get upset about AfterlifeTelegrams.com haven't visited the Web site. That's what my experience has been."

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services