Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Meaning of Being Lonely?

Imagine you get home after a tiresome day, grab something to bite and then settle down on your favourite chair in front of the television to catch your favourite program. But then you have a medical condition, could be a heart condition or something related, you pass out and end up dying in front of your television set. And for 3 years, nobody really misses you, your decomposed body gets discovered years later after your landlord gets concerned about the rent arrears. This looks like an improbable scenario, right? Wrong!

Sometimes last year I came a sad story about Joyce Vincent Carol, a young woman who, in 2006, was found in a London bedsit, apparently having been dead for about 3 years. Her skeleton lay on the sofa, the TV set was still on, on the floor lay a pile of unopened Christmas presents, washing up was heaped on the kitchen sink, a heap of post lay behind the front door and food in the refrigerator was marked with 2003 expiry dates. I read the story with great curiosity, eager to find out how someone could be dead in a house for 3 years without anybody discovering her. Did she not have family, friends, colleagues who missed her? People who tried to call her and became concerned when they had not heard from her for days, weeks or months? Friends who came to see her at home?

The story I was reading, appearing on The Guardian was written by Carol Morley and it is about her journey to find out more about her, a journey that has been captured on a film Dreams of A Life.
I encourage you to read this interesting piece here




For me however, I found it hard to comprehend this and yet I am aware of how we are gradually moving from being communal animals to individuals who are disconnected from a sense of community. Where I come from, we sometimes complain about people ever being ‘in your face’ and want them to leave us alone. If you put off your phone for 48 hours and remain totally incommunicado, I can guarantee that there will be several visitors on your doorstep curious to find out where you are. We still take notice if the neighbor has been away for more than a week. This is why I found this story so compelling and so sad…

As you will read in the story, this was not a forgotten junkie, an overdosed addict, an isolated heavy drinker, she was not an old loner without family… she was someone who had dated, socialized, worked in London firms and mingled with “celebrities” and met and shook hands with one of the most respected icons in the world…

I don’t know what there is to learn from this story (and please feel free to share your views) but I just felt I should share this…

PS: I recently came across an interesting programme on BBC Knowledge where a firm tries to trace relatives of mostly people who have passed on without wills but left a fortune. The idea is to trace people who can inherit the wealth. I find it quite disappointing that there are usually cases where they cannot connect the deceased with anybody alive or dead....

23 comments:

  1. Loneliness...I recall a poem
    l
    one
    l
    i
    ness
    That read suggested that loneliness was actually I one I one ness the idea that one is self-suffiecient and is this not what we are striving to be or to become. Able to do virtually everything for and by ourselves?

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    1. Is that what we are taught to aspire for today? To be able to do everything for yourself such that we even become embarrassed to ask for help for fear of being perceived as failures!

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  2. What a sad story, but I think this kind of thing happens more often in the west than we care to realize. Over the last many decades people have been pursuing their dreams, moving away from the towns where they grew up and having fewer children or no children. It is sad but not sure how it can really be avoided unless we make sure to reach out to others and create a circle of friends who substitute as family. Some are better at that than others. I wonder why in the case you mentioned, the landlord did not attend at the place to find her sooner? Usually rent is payable every month and surely one would think he'd check on the late payments and found the girl.

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    1. Unfortunately this is the price we have to pay for leaving behind the small communities and embracing the big cities. On two occasions I have stayed in New York in an apartment and was actually surprised that I never got to even see who the neighbours are. at times I could hear footsteps in the hallway, that is the closest I came. I don't mean to be judgmental as I have not spent a considerable amount of time in cities of such magnitude but give me a small community anytime.But I also think that because we cannot completely avoid "progress", we can still be creative enough to find ways of forming new communities to replace the old ones...

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    2. I do agree with you. I live in a condo in a building where I have 9 other suites on the same floor. Over the time I've lived here 8 of those units have had new owners. I've only managed to have more than one discussion with 1 person who lives right next door. I do make a point of trying to meet and greet others when I see them but find that most people do want their space and privacy. I think too it really depends on your cultural background. Most of my neighbours are caucasion and though they are friendly when you do speak with them, they generally seem to want to be left alone to live their lives without neighbourly inquiry. Personally, I like my space too but I'd rather be on a first name basis with neighbours.

      I think the fear of most people in NA is that if you are too friendly with your neighbours they will get too inquisitive and know too much about your daily life and therefore interfere with your enjoyment of it. I've seen the same "fears" in Kenya where people are living in apartments.

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  3. Otieno, I found this quite hard to believe. The situation scares me. Did no one care to check on that woman? Maybe she maintained a scenario where she projected the fact that she actually liked being alone and eventually people shunned her.
    There are many out there who are like her, I reckon. People who fiercely guard their 'space' and send out signals which shout, 'Stay away, I have no need of you.' This is another example of the community life which we are leaving behind to become solitary and 'space' conscious humans (A long sighhhhhhhh).

    Joy always,
    Susan

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    1. It is indeed a long sigh, I also found it quite hard to believe. As it is, it is now good bye to community and long live the individual!

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  4. A very sad post indeed - although it was unusual that the landlord took so long to take any action ... same with the utility companies.

    But that really is not the issue - the issue is not having friends or family who care enough to seek you out and in large cities it is easy to become invisible.

    I always make every effort to get to know my neighbours - I don't want to be their pals or intrude on their lives but I think it's important to be seen by everyone so that on that fateful day I don't turn up everyone misses me!

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    1. Hey, Jane...effort is the key word here. How many of us make an effort to interact?

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  5. At the time of her death, only God truly knows what she was going through. It is interesting to note that the Landlord never came knocking, it is different now l would like to believe. It is sad but it has happened. I believe that this is the second case of someone passing and it being some time before they are found..... may we do better. It does not take much really to reach out and actually touch somebody.

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    1. Thanks for passing by and commenting. As Jane mentioned above, it is making the effort to reach out that we find daunting...

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  6. As for the woman herself, she was dead. Still I can't help wondering. Maybe she initiated all her social contact on her own terms. But that is just weak speculation and I haven't even convinced myself. I sort of understand why what there is to be learned here is unclear.

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    1. Good to see you here after a long time....yes, we will never really know why "she was all alone"

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  7. This was a gem of a piece Otieno ...It is a sad world that we live in. The account itself reads like a really nice plot...so hard to believe that it is true. Your writer's skill shines through as we catch ourselves reading the article to discover the identity of the respected icon - a very nice touch. I have copied a small quote from the article which is still giving me goosebumps
    ".....Joyce, who died alone in her bedsit, anonymous and seemingly forgotten, had once had her image transmitted live to millions of living rooms in the 61 countries where the show was broadcast."

    Stay well.

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    1. I agree, those lines were haunting...

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  8. It is scary how people are alienating themselves. I read the article about Joyce and it is such a sad truth. I cannot imagine something like that happening here. In India we still have that strong sense of community. People come and visit often. But yes the disconnect is slowly seeping in the metros. You can feel very isolated if you do not have friends and family. Thank you for sharing this thought provoking post Charles

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    1. And thank you for stopping by. It is really scary, we seem to nowadays aspire to be self-sufficient at the expenses of having others around us.

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  9. That's just sad. Very very sad. I heard of an incident here in Nairobi this year where a lady died in her house and it was a couple of weeks before it was noticed. It was the stench from her flat that got a visiting cop curious (the neighbours had thought it was a dead cat..)

    We must do better as a society even in these times of minding our own business ..

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    1. Hmm, the neighbours did not bother to knock and find out what was happening in her house with the stench? I would to imagine that I would have been curious after a couple of days...or maybe we slowly get used to the odour?

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  10. Sigh...a sad story indeed. I remember as a child, someone we knew was found after days - the ironic part is that he had family but it was during the school holidays and the kids and wife had travelled to visit family in the village as was commonly done then. Not to spook anyone, but suffice to say that separating his body from the floor was a task.

    Joyce is gone...what I learn from this is that, although we cannot avoid 'progress' as Charles says, we should have at least one or two friends who care enough about us and who we care enough about not to end up in a 'poem' (as Oby has posted) situation.

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    1. You already spooked me! We should have 'lots' of friends and family who we care for...

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  11. What a shocking and riveting story, Charles. It's scary to know that something like this could well happen in Mumbai or another big metro...How we've changed! This is going to haunt me for a long time...

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  12. It is indeed a shocking and riveting story. It haunted me for quite some time

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