If I died alone in my apartment, how long would it take anyone to notice?
As someone who lives alone–and someone who knows that there are more years behind me than there are ahead of me–I think about this more and more. For better or worse, I like living alone. I probably like it more than I should. Even so, this death scenario scares me.
That’s the main reason that I can’t get this superb article by N.R, Kleinfeld in today’s New York Times out of my head. It’s the story of George Bell, a man who died alone in his apartment. With meticulous attention to detail, Kleinfeld spells out what happens after someone dies this way. I don’t want to give away too much, because I’m hoping that anyone who reads this blog will also read the story and find out for themselves. It’s a sad story, but it reads like an engrossing detective story.
I will say this much: George Bell was a hoarder, and he probably had depression. I have depression, and though I’m not a hoarder, I’ll admit that I could do a better job of keeping up my apartment. I moved into a new apartment two months ago, and there are still some things I haven’t unpacked yet. There is no logical reason for this, and I know I’m not alone. The other day, I talked to a good friend who moved into a new house this year. He too has depression–and he too has not totally unpacked yet. Not that I’m keeping score, but he’s been in his new house longer than I’ve been in my new apartment.
But, back to George Bell. The New York Times story takes us through all the details that have to be ironed out, and the mysteries that have to be solved, after someone dies alone, and there aren’t any obvious family or friends to take care of the arrangements. In George Bell’s case, there were people who had to go through everything he hoarded. As sad and tragic as this story is, I find it oddly uplifting to know that, even for people who lived very isolated lives, there are those whose job it is to try to put together the pieces of the puzzle that was that person, and to try as best as they can to honor that person’s last wishes.
Thanks to the people who were, in one way or another, charged with the task of figuring out who George Bell was, the story of George’s life eventually does become clearer. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that the story has some surprising twists. George Bell wasn’t quite what you’d expect him to be. Few of us are.
Everyone deserves some respect, especially in death. And everyone has a story. This is George Bell’s. Thanks to N.R, Kleinfeld and the New York Times, we get to bear witness to a life that too many people would rather ignore.
To read the story, click here.