Friday, 15 February 2013

Dying to be noticed

Happy February all!

Hope all is good with you and everyone is managing to keep warm in this very chilly weather! For me any excuse to drink copious amounts of hot chocolate is welcomed!

I've lived on my own for most of my adult life and sometimes I do get this slightly scary thought of, "what if I fell or something on my own in the long would it take for anyone to find me or even start to worry about me?" I know its a slightly depressing thought (sorry) but since chatting to a few of my lovely single friends, it is a fear shared amongst us. In fact for one of my mates it actually happened! She slipped out of the shower and knocked herself out. She thankfully came to an hour or so later and was absolutely fine, but scary stuff nonetheless!

I was also inspired to write about this subject as I recently saw the outstanding documentary about Joyce Vincent called "Dreams of a life".

Joyce, 38, died in her bedsit in North London in December 2003 and was not found for almost three years until her housing association tried to repossess the property. Strangely Joyce's TV was still on as she lay dead by her sofa surrounded by wrapped Christmas presents. Police did not find any evidence of foul play in regards to her death. When news broke of Joyce's death, the papers neglected to include a photo of Joyce and this inspired film maker Carol Morley to investigate who Joyce was and film a documentary which essential pays tribute to Joyce and her remarkable but short life.

Joyce Vincent
Joyce appeared to have led a rather secretive life where she moved numerous times in London, never keeping in regular touch with people who knew her. Joyce lived through the lives of other people and rarely opened up to those closest to her. The problem with such self preservation and lack of disclosure is that only through revealing parts of ourselves, can we make real connections with others. The lack of connections with others seem to have greatly contributed towards her being so easily forgotten. Interestingly Joyce's striking beauty seems to have played a part in all of this as people who knew her imagined that she was somewhere else having a better life than them because of her looks.

Little is really known about her family, she had four sisters (all older), her mother died when she was young and her father died about a year after her own death. Morley did manage to contact one of Joyce's sisters who apparently explained that they had tried to locate Joyce before her death with the help of a private investigator and the Salvation Army but nothing was found. So efforts were made, but for me a bigger question is why had the family lost touch with Joyce in the first place? 

A few years before her death Joyce had left a good career at the large accountancy firm, Ernst & Young, telling her work colleagues that she was going abroad with friends. So what on earth happened to Joyce which may have started her terrible journey ending with her dying alone in a bedsit a few years later. It appears that around the time she left E&Y, in 2001,Joyce was taken in by a refuge for victims of domestic violence and it was this refuge which helped find her the bedsit she eventually died in.  It would appear that Joyce, already a pretty secretive person, felt a great deal of shame about her situation, as she hid the violence from anyone who knew her. As a volunteer at Victim Support, I wonder why there was no support for Joyce after she left the refuge. Though I do have to keep in mind the possibility that Joyce may have refused support which may explain why no one was checking on her.

Joyce's story is incredibly tragic and am sure you'll agree that there are lessons for us all. Here's the link to the channel 4 documentary if you want to see it, Dreams of a Life, I highly recommend it!

Interestingly one of the people interviewed in the Joyce Vincent documentary mentions that in the days when Joyce died and the years preceding, social media like Facebook, were not available and so photos and contact could not be easily made, in other words losing touch was easier.  I wonder whether social media sites have helped us stay in touch with people more or has it allowed us to become lazy with our forms of contact and  For all we know what with Joyce's beauty, character and her numerous London homes, she might have had 100's of friends on Facebook but that doesn't necessarily mean that her death could have been avoided or noticed earlier. What Joyce needed was real connections with others, with people who genuinely cared for her.

So a think one lesson for us all is not to be afraid to ask for help, people around us do care and will want to help and there is no shame in admitting things are a bit tough.

Scarily, there are also other tragic stories from around the globe about people dying unnoticed. For example in 2006, a man was found dead travelling on the New York subway. Officials worked out that he had been dead on the train for about 6 hours before any of the morning commuters noticed him. Another story is about a tax inspector in Finland who died in his office in 2004 and was not discovered for 2 days (about 100 staff worked on his floor).  A more horrific story is of a man who died at his desk in an open plan office of a New York publishing house on a Monday in 2001 and wasn't found till a weekend cleaner tried to get his attention 5 days later (23 people shared the same office space). So next time you hop on the tube or get to work at your desk, have a look around and keep a check on those around you (just in case)!

Till next month

Take care