By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The U.S. Postal Service is apologizing after what a Twin Cities family calls a traumatic experience.

A letter mailed to a Chaska man was mailed back to his mother with the word “deceased” across the envelope. The son was still alive, but the family says the error caused confusion and emotional distress.

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“I’m in charge of getting the mail,” Jason Gerling said.

It’s part of Gerling’s daily routine.

“I pull my wheelchair-accessible van up and, just right at the box, I can reach and get it,” Gerling said.

About the same time Gerling began to notice he was only receiving junk mail, a letter his mom, Jan, sent to him was sent back to her.

“It said ‘deceased’ in red, red letters,” Jan Gerling said. “It almost caused me to have a heart attack. I said, ‘I just got two pieces of mail back that were supposed to come to your house, and you’re deceased. What is going on? Call me.'”

“I was like mom, ‘I’m okay,'” Jason Gerling said.

But the ordeal brought the two back to a day 20 years ago.

“Police came to my door, the wee hours of the morning, rang the doorbell and said, ‘Your son has been in a terrible accident,'” Jan Gerling recalls.

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Jason Gerling suffered a spinal cord injury and has used a wheelchair ever since.

“So 20 years later, ironically, my mom goes out to the mailbox and sees ‘deceased’ on a letter,” he said. “I was very frustrated, I was scared, I was thinking, ‘I hope somebody’s not trying to pull a practical joke on me.'”

The Gerlings learned another family went to the Chaska post office, requesting the mail be stopped for their loved one who died.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service apologized and told WCCO: “It was our mistake. It likely began with a piece of Jason’s mail being mis-delivered to the mother of the deceased. In any event, this is a mistake that shouldn’t have happened. Postal policy is that mail for a deceased person should be returned only if it is known that the individual is deceased and the mail cannot properly be delivered to another person.”

Jason depends on his disability benefits and a check that comes in the mail every month.

For him, this error could have been disastrous.

“I certainly hope that this will shine light on this error and hopefully checks and balances will be put in order,” he said.

The spokesperson for the USPS also said he isn’t aware of a written guideline to ensure person is deceased before stopping their mail. In this case, he said someone acted on what they thought was good information.

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The Gerlings would like to see the USPS require a death certificate in the future to make sure this doesn’t happen to another family.

Jennifer Mayerle