Dead man still walking

Kenneth Nesslage died on May 13, at least as the result of an error made at the Social Security Administration office. Nesslage was attempting to notify the office that his mother had died, but an unfortunate mix-up led to all sorts of paperwork and trips back to the office.

Nine little numbers can kill you. Seriously. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust deadly.

That was what Ken Nesslage discovered to his untimely demise. RIP.

He was 77 and only trying to do the right thing when it happened, for heaven's sake.

He had gone to the Social Security Administration office out by the Grand Junction Regional Airport to notify them that his mother had died.

Roberta J. McDonough was 95 years, 1 month and 1 day old when she died on May 13 with her beloved small dog in her lap. Unfortunately, on July 1 it became apparent that the mortuary in Utah hadn't made the notifications for her that it was supposed to and it fell to Nesslage, the trustee for her estate.

A dutiful son to the end, he had all the proper paperwork. However, he was required to enter his own Social Security number into the system to get a ticket to be seen at the office window.

And with that nine-digit entry, Nesslage sent himself into the digital jaws of death.

Not realizing how bad off he was, though, he didn't go to the doctor for a week. He was told his Medicare was suspended.

As soon as he got home, he called Medicare.

"Are you sitting down, Mr. Nesslage?" the woman asked. "I'm going to tell you something that might disturb you greatly."

Then she told him he was dead.

"What!" he yelled.

He was back at the Social Security office in a hot second, much too upset to be a ghostly apparition.

But, alas, he was dead. As of May 13, in fact. The same day his mother died.

He was assured the error mixing up his mother's death with his own would be corrected. However, in the days to come Nesslage began to realize it was much easier to die than to come back to life and found himself an odd member among the walking dead all headed downhill.

Still, he attempted to refill his blood pressure medication. His Medicare remained suspended.

Credit card — denied

He and his wife of 40 years, Judy Nesslage, stopped for lunch at Butch's Cafe in Delta. His credit card was declined.

"We've never had a credit card declined," said Judy, who is adamant about paying bills well before they are due and regularly guards their private information.

The couple paid their tab using a different card, but as he went from the restaurant to the car, Nesslage couldn't help thinking to himself, "dead man walking."

He got a call from a health care company about arranging for repossession of the CPAP oxygen machine he leases.

"I use it every night! Please don't take it away. I might die if you do!" Nesslage told them.

Then the letters began arriving, which made the couple dread getting the mail.

Credit card companies sent cancelation notices addressed to the "estate of the deceased."

Bank of America, which held their mortgage, wasn't far behind.

"Please accept our condolences for your loss," said a letter sent to Judy. "We understand this is a difficult time and appreciate your help in providing the information needed …"

They wanted a copy of Nesslage's death certificate and other documents. When Nesslage called the bank, he was told that among other things he would need to physically walk into the nearest branch — it's in Avon — to prove he was alive.

That was the nail in the coffin for the Nesslages' relationship with Bank of America. The couple had just started the process of refinancing their mortgage with another bank, anyway.

"Fortunately, the bank manager knows me and they chose to ignore the information" (pertaining to his death), Nesslage said.

However, to go forward with refinancing, Nesslage needed proof of income and Social Security had closed his account.

Burial expenses

Meanwhile, Judy received another letter, this time from Social Security, telling her what her new monthly payments would be and that she would receive $255 for her husband's burial expenses.

"How soon do I get that?" asked Judy, being smart with Nesslage. "A whole $255!"

"I'm starting to stink really bad. No embalming fluid," Nesslage deadpanned.

So Nesslage returned to the local Social Security office a third time July 19. He was able to get proof of income, but still was on the administration's Death Master File.

"I prayed for the Social Security office to correct the document," said Nesslage, who happens to be an ordained minister as well as a retired electrical engineer and business owner.

On his fourth trip to the office on July 26 — everyone there now knows him by sight and certainly by name — he got a letter indicating he had been reported dead in error.

He has since made one more visit to the office and received a mailed letter from Social Security admitting the "inconvenience" it might have caused by declaring him dead ... and that all his private information had been shared, per law, publicly.

The light at the end of the tunnel? A year of free credit monitoring, complimentary.

Sure, he'll do it. It's free, he said.

The couple's children — there are 10 between the two of them — "they all think it's funny," Nesslage said.

There have been plenty of jokes about his death and resurrection, and "there was a lot of bad words said around the house, mostly by me," Judy admitted.

"I'm alive, I think. I've got a pulse," said Nesslage, who can laugh about the whole thing now that it's been laid to rest.

He also has a couple lines for his tombstone: "Here lies Ken Nesslage. The second time he died, it worked."

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