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No one should have to die alone
November 11, 2013 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Harold Percival will not be missed. This. This is the power of the printed word, and the internet. If you only read one thing today, please read this.
posted by edmcbride (51 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sometimes the news can make me smile.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:21 PM on November 11, 2013


Its not very often that the news can do that. Today it did.
posted by edmcbride at 3:23 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think I saw this on either Simon Pegg's or Stephen Fry's Twitter feed last night - that's part of the "social media" the article was talking about. REALLY good to see this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:29 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, Harold Percival was a private person, as stated in the article, who rarely contacted his family and didn't share his address with them when he was alive. I doubt he'd really care, though of course he will never know that hundreds of strangers showed up at his funeral, just as those strangers have no idea how he felt about the war and his experiences as part of it. But, they say, he was a veteran and therefore part of a kind of family. I don't think so, myself. This gesture was for the living and invokes a form of sentiment that feels wonderful, briefly, and then tends to evaporate. This funeral procession lasts a few hours and allows the attendees to feel that they are doing something honourable when many other living veterans suffer for lack of social support and proper health care. It's a bit of a hollow gesture, when so many are coming back from Afghanistan broken in all ways, and having to fight for benefits.
posted by jokeefe at 3:34 PM on November 11, 2013 [55 favorites]


Speaking as "a very private man", I'm only glad that, when I die, if some well-meaning individual decides that a ceremony for close family is somehow not enough, I won't be around to get infuriated about it. I suppose if it makes the still-alive people happy, I guess.
posted by darksasami at 3:35 PM on November 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Here is a different take on The Wake For The Man With No Family. This article was handed out at a memorial service I participated in on Friday. It was oddly appropriate even though the two men were very different. I would love to have an obituary like this.
posted by janey47 at 3:43 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the story of Eileen Nearne who died alone with no family or friends but then had a busy funeral when it turned out she was a spy who had been awarded medals and worked behind enemy lines in WWII (previously).
posted by memebake at 3:43 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's cute, I guess, but he's dead anyway, so it's not like he'd care.
posted by Slinga at 3:52 PM on November 11, 2013


Already read the abortion stories, hit my limit, sorry.

But seriously, this is both touching and quite sad. Suddenly people care now that he's dead, but while he was alive, and could have used the company?

We need an OKReaper or something where you can set up old people who are like in nursing homes with young people (but of course, would anyone do it if he wasn't a soldier?) I mean I know some people do it, but, why not do it when they can appreciate it?

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, it's touching and moving, and I don't want my skepticism to take away from that. I just think we could aspire to more.
posted by symbioid at 4:04 PM on November 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just as a social experiment, I want someone in the same city to run a similar notice about an aging family-less person in a nursing home who could really use some company and see how many people come visit.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:09 PM on November 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


We need an OKReaper or something

rig.by, surely.
posted by Sara C. at 4:11 PM on November 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Worth highlighting schemes like this: http://www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk/
posted by memebake at 4:13 PM on November 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just as a social experiment, I want someone in the same city to run a similar notice about an aging family-less person in a nursing home who could really use some company and see how many people come visit.

Jesus, that's cold.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:14 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not really that unusual. People who want company can often get it through a whole host of volunteer organizations. I've visited people who were aging and lonely, in a time period when I wasn't doing hospice caregiver volunteer work.
posted by janey47 at 4:16 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, social network requests for people to visit so and so in the hospital/hospice/assisted living are actually pretty common.
posted by Sara C. at 4:24 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the fact that the funeral was to be on Nov 11th made a big difference. Many of the people in attendance were in the armed forces and may have felt more emotionally inclined to attend a soldier's service than they might have on, say, July 11th or February 25th. Also, funerals are for the living.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:52 PM on November 11, 2013


From the home page of the The Dambusters:
617 Squadron, RAF, “The Dambusters” was a single squadron formed during the Second World War to carry out a single special and dangerous task. That operation “Chastise” has since become a legend in the annals of military history and it possess all the traditionally admired military attributes of originality, surprise and heroism coupled with a very dramatic outcome. Operation Chastise has in many ways overshadowed the later exploits of the men who formed the squadron.

Over the last few years some people have questioned the actions of Bomber Command and the actions taken to destroy the industrial and domestic centres of Germany during the Second World War. I myself, have taken a sideline to this question. I do not condone or sanction what Bomber Command did in its attempt to destroy the industry of Germany. I believe that the most dangerous thing on this planet is man, as soon as people start to attack each other, the animal instinct takes over. Each will try to outwit or kill one another singly or in bulk should the chance arise. To this end any aspect of war is bad.

People can pass comment on certain aspects of all wars but I do not believe it is right to criticise someone or something that they were not involved in or with. Modern information technology has made vast amounts of statistical and anecdotal evidence available to the historian but what sometimes gets lost in this mass of information is the immediacy and emotion caused by the raw fear of warfare. Normal reactions to events judged sitting in the arm chair by the fire side are not the same as those as when ones life and existence is tangibly at risk.
They did what they had to do, until the day comes that we no longer have to do such things.
posted by cenoxo at 4:59 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the power of the printed word, and the internet.

I think the internet is capable of so much more than an empty gesture for a person who isn't around to appreciate it.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:03 PM on November 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


why is the lead sentence of this post "harold percival will not be missed"?
Doesn't that mean "he was a bad guy and people aren't sad that he's dead?"
posted by coaster at 5:05 PM on November 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


And so a pageant of schmaltzy self-signaling was performed on Veteran's Day.
posted by batfish at 5:21 PM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's about this point in these comments where my mom, if she were here, would say, "If you don't have something nice to say, you need not say anything at all."
posted by MoonOrb at 5:29 PM on November 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sometimes we need to say things which are right, which reveal the truth .. even if they are not so nice to say.

I am sure saying nice things all the time must be good but it just leads to group think and herd mentality, and I for one, am glad that there are people who point out the contrary side of what just happened yesterday because that makes me see from an outsider's perspective.

That said, I doubt this gesture was for the dead man on account of him being dead. This gesture was for us and though it might have been made to feel good about ourselves, it also reminded a lot of people about those who are lonely and might not have any family/friends to be with them. Hopefully, some from these lots of people will remember this incident and, in future, connect with a lonely person before they are dead.

Which will be the best thing to come out of this event.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 5:44 PM on November 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's about this point in these comments where my mom, if she were here, would say, "If you don't have something nice to say, you need not say anything at all."

"This story is really great" is a valid response, but if the whole thread was just people making that response, it really wouldn't be metafilter. Although this story is sortof heartwarming, there is something strange about someone dying without any close friends or family, and then having hundreds of people show up at their funeral. Its worth exploring whats seems nice about that and what seems strange about that. I'm sure it says something about how our culture views old people. death, funerals and the military.
posted by memebake at 5:45 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


well his family seemed to like it but i guess you guys know best.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 6:06 PM on November 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Earlier today I created an FPP about Harold Percival's lonely death and well-attended funeral. After a moment's hesitation, I deleted it rather than post it. Looking above, I see I was right to do so.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:49 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Loner" and "lonely" are hardly the same thing. Perhaps Mr. Percival was quite content.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:59 PM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


TheLittlePrince: "That said, I doubt this gesture was for the dead man on account of him being dead. This gesture was for us"

True of all funeral rites, ever.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:01 PM on November 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Engage as You Age exists only in the Bay Area so far (I just heard of it because a neighbor is involved), but it sounds like a great way to create intergenerational friendships and, yes, connections.

I have no close older relatives of my own, but I have lots and lots of older friends, and the friendship enriches us both. I wish I had more time to share for people like Percival.
posted by vickyverky at 8:19 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


i wandered the world all my life
i fought in the war long ago
through australia, new zealand, i wandered
i didn't need too much, you know

i died at a ripe old age
i left no wife, no children behind
but some people put stuff on the internet
they said i should be on their mind

hey, it's all well and good you remember
how i held a big gun, long ago
but you see, friends, it's just cause i had to
i was just one more poor GI joe

but you people who came to my funeral
now you pat yourself hard on the back
you're all feeling, yeah, pretty damn good 'bout yourselves
as you all crawl upon my dead back

but the war was a terrible nightmare
t'was a hideous war that we fought
and the thousands of young men who died in the mud?
you should think of them now, yes you ought

cause i lived to a ripe old age!
but those poor lads who died in their prime?
those are the ones, friend, for whom you should grieve
some memorial day, if you have time
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:58 PM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Harold is beyond help but if one person reads this story and decides to visit a lonely old person then it was not an empty gesture.
posted by night_train at 1:03 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jesus, I'm angry now. What a bunch of pompous, self-righteous wankers you are. This isn't some futile gesture like a Facebook 'like' for a picture of a kitten. These people, many in uniform, went out of their way and stood in the rain to mark the passing of someone who, among other things, served in wartime to give us the freedoms we all enjoy.

To try and lecture us on what their motivations were is breathtakingly arrogant. Yes, this man was a symbol, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is a fucking symbol! Perhaps people could do better in looking after old people, perhaps some will but this was at least something, and it almost certainly more than any of the supercilious naysayers have managed to do.

On review night_train said it better, but you're still wankers.
posted by epo at 1:15 AM on November 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


epo, I cannot avoid to think that for some people the important thing is to participate in a public event that they think will somehow make him part of something (whatever that is) and give them visibility in their circle of friends and aquaintances.

I am thinking for example, about the million people who went to the pope's funeral, certainly among them there were really people of faith, and also certainly there were people who went there only to be part of , to take some pictures and go back home and start spreading them between their friends.

Unfortunately, social sites like facebook or twitter are mainly used as a personal stage, and what is the best way to advertise oneself if not participating in a big and public event?

Don't you think that somehow taking in account people's motivation to participate in such an event is important? That sincerity is important?

My personal opinion is that there is too much showing off these days, everything must used as an occasion to boost our (self perceived) public image.

posted by yann at 3:59 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


A crowd of hundreds of Brits, many of them in uniform, turn out on Armistice Day to honor the death of a Dambuster who fought in the war during which their country's freedom, and that of all Europe, hung by a thread? And folks are bitching and grousing about self-serving showing off?

What nasty, cankered little hearts some people have.
posted by stuck on an island at 5:36 AM on November 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


My personal opinion is that there is too much showing off these days, everything must used as an occasion to boost our (self perceived) public image.

I think you mean "maintaining the brand," (and I agree entirely).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:37 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


These people, many in uniform, went out of their way and stood in the rain to mark the passing of someone who, among other things, served in wartime to give us the freedoms we all enjoy.

Most of the freedoms I enjoy were won in courtrooms and on picket lines.

Yes, this man was a symbol, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is a fucking symbol!

And yet I find both these symbols of pernicious militarism to be morally abhorrent, so I'm not sure I see your point.
posted by jokeefe at 5:39 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


This funeral procession lasts a few hours and allows the attendees to feel that they are doing something honourable when many other living veterans suffer for lack of social support and proper health care.

Why would you assume that the attendees don't care about living veterans? At least they moved their asses, offered some visibility to the issue and made a family happy. I think that might be better than a lot of us in this thread have managed recently.

Don't you think that somehow taking in account people's motivation to participate in such an event is important? That sincerity is important?

No because I'm a filthy consequentialist rather than a deontologist. When the Tories passed gay marriage here in the UK, I didn't furrow my brow. Praise the good and condemn the bad.
posted by ersatz at 6:37 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you can hold misgivings about militarism and the modern version of Remembrance Sunday/Armistice day and still think this is a good thing.

It should be remembered that the people who put the advert in the local paper to start with were his nursing home; the people who spent his last days with him. For all we know, Harold Percival thought of his military days as the part of his life with the most meaning and he himself thought this would be fitting even if he was not by nature very social.

My family owned a flat in Lytham - the smaller part of Lytham StAnnes - for about 20 years, it was our main dwelling for some of that time. There are many, many retirement or nursing homes there and in the wider Blackpool area. People are right to say that it would be as well for residents and retirees to be visited more often; that bad thing does not detract from this good thing.
posted by calico at 6:53 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


People are right to say that it would be as well for residents and retirees to be visited more often; that bad thing does not detract from this good thing.

Maybe not. I'm not so sure. If going to this man's funeral--or the publicity around the funeral--motivates some people to take better care of the living, then good. I hope it does. But to me it feels like one of the small easy things where the feel-good payoff is way out of proportion to the effort invested and the actual difference that it made.

Jesus, that's cold.

Don't misunderstand. I've done my fair share of visiting lonely old people in nursing homes. I've looked at pictures of grandkids who don't call and talked about what it was like when the news came in that World War I was over. This is not an idle question for me. But I would love to know how many people would volunteer to visit a lonely person who would like company, if you ran the same-sized announcement in the same place. My guess is not 5% of the people who came to Harold's funeral. It's easy to show up once, hear some interesting stories, stand up, sit down and feel like you were part of something grand. And, for what it's worth, there's nothing wrong with it and maybe a nephew or two really appreciated the gesture. But really honoring Harold would have meant being there the week before, and the week before that. It means antiseptic nursing home smells and checkers in the parlor and hearing the same story for the fifth time because it's hard, at 90+, to remember who has heard what. We should view attending a funeral at the first baby step toward honoring the Harolds of the world. The real work requires more.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:26 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pater is right that the real work requires more.

But I wouldn't accuse the people who did turn up of self-centered self-congratulatoriness, either. Previous ignorance or obliviousness, maybe, but not self-congratulatoriness.

Look at it this way. No matter how you think about the service of a military man, he was a guy who got sent into some heavy shit and then came home and lived with that shit in his head for years and years. Not everyone handled that kind of shit in their heads all that well (ask Patrick Stewart how his father handled it, for starters). Hell, maybe that's why the guy isolated himself. And the rest of the world moved on, and he saw it move on.

But it is the nature of the world to move on, until every so often something like this happens to bring a lot of people up short and make them realize "oh. Oh. Right." And that's when you get Gestures For The Dead like this.

So rather than self-congratulatoriness, I'm seeing this as more self-flagellation - "shit, why didn't everyone do more while he was alive?" And like Pater says, maybe this is the first step towards honoring the Harolds of the world. Maybe some of the people who went through this funeral are going to go on to visiting a nursing home or finally asking grandpa about his time in the war or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 AM on November 12, 2013


Pater, I understand, and I haven't done enough for people at the end of their lives. I also understand we should exhort people to do better. But of the three outcomes:

1) Man dies at end of life after dedicating some of it to the service of his country (or community) and it goes unremarked. People do not visit the elderly

2) Man dies at end of life; some people use this as an opportunity to practise true remembrance in respect of his service. People do not visit the elderly.

3) Man dies at end of life; some people use this as an opportunity to practise remembrance; some of them and some others are reminded that life is to be treasured and resolve to visit the elderly.

it seems to me that 3 is obviously the best, but 2 is not worthless.

Who knows, maybe it's confirmation bias, but for me this is the year that Remembrance Sunday went weird and tribal:

- M25 bikers dress in red to create 'largest poppy'
- The Telegraph seems to have confused 'remembrance' and 'the biggest picture'
- This picture was being passed around as if forwarding a picture on Facebook - and being seen to do it by your peers - was a test of your piety towards our war dead, rather than silent contemplation, donating to the Royal Legion or even working towards no more wars ever.

In this environment I'm more glad to see the passing of this one man honoured honestly (yes, I'm making an assumption) than all the poppy bullying of the last week.
posted by calico at 8:55 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't you think that somehow taking in account people's motivation to participate in such an event is important? That sincerity is important?

My personal opinion is that there is too much showing off these days, everything must used as an occasion to boost our (self perceived) public image.
I'm going to need some proof that you are a sincere curmudgeon and not just someone looking to boost your image by posting contrary opinions.
posted by cnelson at 9:16 AM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


For all we know, Harold Percival thought of his military days as the part of his life with the most meaning and he himself thought this would be fitting even if he was not by nature very social.

This is a really good point.

I'm a loner by nature. It's very possible that I'll never marry or have children. There's a strong chance I'll be somebody's Aunt Sara, in an old age home somewhere, with nobody coming to my funeral.

But it's not like I think funerals are stupid and don't want to have one and wouldn't want people to go. If I died alone in a hospice and, via social networking, hundreds of strangers showed up at my funeral? That sounds cool and fun!

I mean, sure, maybe this guy was a colossal misanthrope who hated life? But why assume that?
posted by Sara C. at 9:48 AM on November 12, 2013


Yes, in fact I should have remembered to add this link, which gives a bit more background on Percival's life.
posted by calico at 10:04 AM on November 12, 2013


Percival looked like a cool guy - and I wish I was there, only because Dam Busters were a bunch of gutsy, crazy men. I know he was part of the support staff, which means he probably had his hand in setting up the spinning bomb inside these planes.

I have seen some b&w reel of these planes flying so close to the water and drop the spinning bombs that skips up and hit the tail of their own plane taking it down into the water. Everything was dangerous. Even spinning up the bomb inside their plane - can you imagine doing something like that now?

Then they perfected the act and did blow up a dam or many. I do not know the stats - but I certainly was impressed with what they did.

Rest in peace, Harold.
posted by Pillai at 10:09 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


jokeefe: "Well, Harold Percival was a private person, as stated in the article, who rarely contacted his family and didn't share his address with them when he was alive. I doubt he'd really care, though of course he will never know that hundreds of strangers showed up at his funeral, just as those strangers have no idea how he felt about the war and his experiences as part of it."

Not wanting to share your life with strangers is very, very far removed from not wanting to be remembered respectfully when you die.

And lots of people don't get along with their families. That really says nothing at all about his attitudes towards recognition.

Introvert != misanthrope.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:45 AM on November 12, 2013


But I would love to know how many people would volunteer to visit a lonely person who would like company, if you ran the same-sized announcement in the same place

I don't know. Are they a veteran? I'd go. In fact, if you can find me a WWI (or WWII veteran, which is more likely) in a nursing home in NYC who has expressed a desire for visits, I'll go this weekend.

I join with those who are just amazed at the cynicism here. Wait, these people are self serving because they go and...most relatively anonymously stand in the rain? And remember, choosing between getting vets their benefits and going to their funerals is not an either/or choice - you can, in fact, do both.
posted by corb at 11:17 AM on November 12, 2013


I agree with the Title of this Post ...

I am personally going through lot of pain currently. my Mom is in the final stages of Cancer, good thing though is she is being cared by her daughter so she is not alone. I agree no one should die alone.
posted by fashionjewelryforeveryone at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2013


Also weird to see the presumption of self-servedness considering so many of those who attended were themselves veterans or military members.

Maybe this is just metafilter being metafilter, but it made me kind of sad to see so many Rememberance Day/Veterans Day grinches show up in this thread to remind all of us that maybe this wasn't as nice as a story as we'd like to believe, even when there's zero evidence from the article to suggest this to be the case.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's interesting how much this has divided people here and elsewhere on the Internet.

I wouldn't call this a hollow gesture, but I'd call it perhaps a capricious one. Thousands of people passed away on the same day as Mr. Percival, many of them may have been veterans, and many of them may have been equally as deserving of being honored like he was. I'm sure many more veterans spent the day of Mr. Percival's funeral alone in nursing homes themselves. But Mr. Percival's life story is the only one most of us will hear this week. If this story inspires people to spend more time with the elderly in the future then that's great, but if just one of the people who had attended the funeral had instead attended some other lonely funeral or visited some other lonely living person, then two people would have honored and Mr. Percival would have been no worse off.

I'm hoping for the best and that those of you who believe this will lead to more attention being paid to the living are right.
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 7:46 PM on November 12, 2013


Bill Ludwigsen will also not be missed. That said, at least he's finally catching up on the father-son time they never had.
(I thought the first link was great, by a wonderful speculative/horror writer; even our own, Scalzi, has featured him on his blog.)
posted by whatgorilla at 9:34 AM on November 13, 2013


I'm going to need some proof that you are a sincere curmudgeon and not just someone looking to boost your image by posting contrary opinions.

Sure.

My running theory of humanity is that whatever is done by a human is always based on egoism. So nothing is done without a (real or perceived) self benefit.

"I help you because I know you will reciprocate"
"I help others because I will be recognized as a good-doer OR because it will boost my self perception"
"I am your friend because I want you to be my friend"

These are just examples, and I am not suggesting that everybody goes through those thoughts before doing something, but I am sure that these are automatic evaluations done by our brans that we don't even realize.
posted by yann at 5:05 AM on November 14, 2013


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