Dying Alone, Invisible and Forgotten: More Questions Than Answers

July 1, 2023

A mid-June headline on the front page of our local newspaper stopped me in my tracks. It said, “Woman found dead in her home: She was believed to have died in October; no foul play suspected.”

Good Lord, I thought. How could this have happened in our friendly community?

I read on: “While conducting a welfare check at a local residence, sheriff’s officers found a woman and her dog dead in her home. Both appeared to have been deceased for several months. Neither the victim nor the dog presented any sign of injury or trauma . . .”

She died in mid-October; why did it take until mid-June for anyone to notice? Even then, it was “an acquaintance” of the woman who finally reported not hearing from her for an extended period of time. Had she no friends, no family who thought it odd to have no word from her in so long? Big get-together holidays passed during that time: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter.

Deputies who reviewed the contents of the home pieced together a few details and a timeline. The woman moved to the area a few years ago from another state and had no local family. Still, I find it hard to imagine having no contact with anyone for eight months.

The woman’s vehicle was parked in her driveway; her house doors were locked. Near her front door, deputies found a reminder from a utility provider that her account was past due. It was dated January 9. Were the water and power still on, or did everything freeze during the winter? If the pipes froze and broke, water may have flooded the home. If so, the article didn’t mention it.

Did she know her neighbors, attend a local church, or stop in regularly at a favorite restaurant? Had her mail accumulated and overflowed her letterbox? Nobody noticed.

The article said the woman suffered from a medical issue that caused her significant pain and immobility. Did she miss any doctors’ appointments or fail to pick up a prescription? No one reported it.

The local sheriff used this sad story to remind readers that his office has a shut-in/elderly check-in program. Staff maintains a list of people who call in daily to report they are okay. A deputy checks on any of them who fail to call by a certain time. I applaud the sheriff’s office for this wonderful community service. But I believe there is also a bigger story here that touches all of us.

I know that I don’t know the whole story or even many of the details. There may be some or many contributing factors that allowed this to happen. Possibly the home was not visible from the road. Perhaps the woman deliberately avoided contact with others. Maybe she moved here to get away from family members or conceivably, her kin didn’t want her around. The point here is not to pass judgment on anyone, just to foster some thoughts about community.

I’m thinking, too, about the woman’s dog, who died of dehydration. I imagine him by her side, head between his paws, patiently waiting for her to wake.

A lone white-tail deer is lying on the grass in the shade outside my window this afternoon, close to our fenced dog yard. She looks healthy but is the only doe I’ve seen recently without a fawn. Our dogs don’t bark. They are accustomed to her; she’s been hanging around for several weeks. The chain link fence separating them from her does not impede their unlikely friendship. Perhaps we can learn something from animals like these. After all, that poor woman’s dog stayed with her until the end.

2 thoughts on “Dying Alone, Invisible and Forgotten: More Questions than Answers

Suzi says: July 1, 2023 at 4:34 pm

This is so sad. We think a small community “knows everybody” but we don’t. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and a reminder that we are our brothers (and sisters) keeper. May we look more outward than inward.

Glenda C. Beall says: July 3, 2023 at 7:59 pm

This was a horrible thing to happen here in our small county. Like you, Sandy, I can’t imagine why no one had missed her. Living alone as I do, it has given me reason to be concerned. Good post, Sandy

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