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A kind of institutional doppelgänger
March 27, 2014 1:50 PM   Subscribe

How long can your digital life keep up the appearance of your actual life? A Michigan woman quit her job in 2008 and told her neighbors she was going abroad. Her bills were paid automatically and her neighbors mowed the lawn until her money ran out in 2013, when the bank foreclosed on her house. A mummified body believed to be hers was discovered in the garage, but authorities are struggling to definitively identify it. There's a Facebook page set up by her family dedicated to finding out what happened to Pia Farrenkopf.
posted by immlass (73 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've heard of this happening in Europe (Germany, I think) from time to time. People's pensions being auto-deposited and their bills being auto-paid while their corpse mummifies on the couch. It's unusual here in America, I suspect, because the kind of financial security that allows everything to get paid automatically for an extended period of time is so uncommon among people sick or old enough to be likely to die alone and unnoticed.

The stories mention her having a large sum of money in the bank (checking account, presumably). Few of us would have time to mummify in peace on the strength of our checking accounts. I wouldn't, anyway.
posted by edheil at 2:07 PM on March 27 [19 favorites]


Reminiscent of Joyce Vincent.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:07 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


As the comments sections on this story on other sites have proved, it's easy for people to step into the facts of this story and somehow blame her family (why didn't they contact her?!?) or her neighbors (they care enough to mow her lawn if it got too unsighttly but never noticed not actually seeing her?!?), but that's bullshit.

This story seems both simultaneously totally unbelievable to me while also 'there but for the grace of God, I could have gone' at various points in my life if other choices had been made. Realizing that is a bit terrifying and I wonder if that fear is why people react so judgmentally when it happened to somebody they didn't even know.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:07 PM on March 27 [9 favorites]


"Our culture has been obsessed with the idea that consciousness can be transmitted—that it can be separated from a person’s body—since the advent of the telegraph."

Similarly, we have been obsessed with disasters which threaten to wreck entire civilizations or races ever since the release of the film "Pacific Rim".
posted by idiopath at 2:11 PM on March 27 [27 favorites]


... but that's bullshit.

You're right. It's shitty to have those reactions, but is it shitty to have the reaction I had which was, "Man, sometimes it must be REALLY cool to be a detective." How curious and strange is this story? Procedural incompetence and sympathy and sadness all aside, this is some twisted stuff. Mold from floor to ceiling? Backseat of the Jeep? Key halfway in the ignition but not turned on?

Fascinating. Lynchian. We can only scratch our heads and wonder about the darkness lurking beneath this story, or if the darkness is even there.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:14 PM on March 27 [6 favorites]


Facebook keeps suggesting that I should become friends with someone who's dead. It does get annoying after a while.
posted by Melismata at 2:14 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Facebook keeps suggesting that I should become friends with someone who's dead. It does get annoying after a while.

Does it have someone particular in mind or is it just more of a general lifestyle suggestion?
posted by Wolfdog at 2:20 PM on March 27 [145 favorites]


This is close by... one of the early stories included a statement from her sister who stated that she "hadn't spoken to her in years"... We probably could have figured that out....
posted by HuronBob at 2:21 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Heh, Wolfdog. It was someone that I knew. I am very sad about his death, and I get tired of Facebook cheerfully suggesting that I should become friends with him.
posted by Melismata at 2:27 PM on March 27 [7 favorites]


I hope that she died naturally? It seems strange to me that she'd quit her job and told people she was going abroad, her cell phone was found but wiped of contacts and records, her last known actions were to place a call to an unknown number and, later in the month, make a(n electronic?) bank transaction. All that sounds to me like she was running off with someone, but things "fell through." But maybe that's all normal within the context of her dying alone and suddenly and going so long undiscovered, I have no real frame of reference.

Poor Pia. It's heartbreaking that she was so alone in the world.
posted by rue72 at 2:28 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


HuronBob: "This is close by... one of the early stories included a statement from her sister who stated that she "hadn't spoken to her in years"... We probably could have figured that out...."

My friend request to my favorite cousin went unanswered during his months-long struggle with brain cancer. I was unable to cancel the request for some time after the end...

Poignant electronic reminders.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:30 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


The specifics of how she was found make it hard to believe it was a tragic accident. And that thing about how she resigned her job because of an email she received.
posted by bleep at 2:30 PM on March 27


Melismata: "Facebook keeps suggesting that I should become friends with someone who's dead. It does get annoying after a while."

I got an email last week from LinkedIn wanting me to congratulate an ex-worker for his six year anniversary at his job when he actually died a year ago.
posted by octothorpe at 2:31 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Although Farrenkopf comes from a large family in south Boston -- she had nine sisters -- family members haven't spoken to her in years. According to Farrenkopf's niece, Nina Logan, who started a Facebook page dedicated to the mystery and her aunt, family tried intently to contact Farrenkopf by phone twice since 2009 when her mother and as sister died, but the phone would just "ring and ring."

It may be shitty to be judgey about the family, but this family situation seems pretty shitty. Her mom and one of her sisters died and no one could be bothered to do more than try to call her? Even if you're estranged from most of your family and/or cut ties, surely the death of a parent merits more than some phone calls. I'm really curious about a family situation where not answering the "our mom is dead" phone call leads to giving up rather than at the least a wellness check from the police department or a neutral-ish family representative being sent out to give the news.

Of course, the whole story is a mystery, and the family situation is only part of it. I'm really curious about why she was in the backseat of the car with the keys in the ignition. Seems like a weird extra step for suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning.
posted by yasaman at 2:32 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


Wolfdog: Does it have someone particular in mind or is it just more of a general lifestyle suggestion?

Three years ago our Johnny died. We thought there was no hope, but then we discovered the United Appeal for the Dead. They showed us that despite Johnny's handicap, he could still be a useful member of our family and the community. Our United Appeal for the Dead caseworker showed us that the absence of life from Johnny's body didn't have to mean his absence from our daily lives.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:34 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


So grateful that to the best of their ability, Metafilter gracefully closes accounts and posts obits when members die, without demanding death certificates or proof or whatever the hell Facebook and others require to close an account.
posted by Melismata at 2:36 PM on March 27 [38 favorites]


It almost doesn't sound like a suicide as much as a death from natural causes - I can imagine that someone might stretch out in the back seat for a minute if they were feeling really unwell but thought they could wait it out for a few minutes. But on the other hand the "going abroad" lie seems like something a person who wanted to disappear would say. A really strange story.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:39 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I canvassed this lady's neighborhood for voter turnout twice while she was dead in her garage. I saw the neighborhood on TV when the news broke and immediately got weirded out. Such a strange story.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 2:42 PM on March 27 [10 favorites]


Melismata: So grateful that to the best of their ability, Metafilter gracefully closes accounts and posts obits when members die, without demanding death certificates or proof or whatever the hell Facebook and others require to close an account.

TIME Magazine's Techland section has a post on gaining control of a loved one’s various online services in the event of his or her death, with overviews of what you can do with accounts on Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, plus how to cancel accounts with all four major U.S. wireless carriers without penalty.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:43 PM on March 27 [20 favorites]


It may be shitty to be judgey about the family, but this family situation seems pretty shitty. Her mom and one of her sisters died and no one could be bothered to do more than try to call her? Even if you're estranged from most of your family and/or cut ties, surely the death of a parent merits more than some phone calls. I'm really curious about a family situation where not answering the "our mom is dead" phone call leads to giving up rather than at the least a wellness check from the police department or a neutral-ish family representative being sent out to give the news.

Apparantly at one point the police did do a wellness check, according to the Facebook page. They took a cat and a dog but apparently did not check the garage.

I see a lot of myself in Pia when I read accounts of her on her facebook page - a quiet person with rigid boundaries between parts of my life. I love my family but I'm not particularly close to them right now and I can imagine them thinking I'd moved without bothering to tell them. Or maybe she gave them the same story about going abroad.
posted by muddgirl at 2:43 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


> one of the early stories included a statement from her sister who stated that she "hadn't spoken to her in years"... We probably could have figured that out....

When I think of the people I know who are estranged from their families, no, it isn't necessarily obvious. Some people prefer to stay out of touch with their families, and sometimes the families don't understand why.
posted by at by at 2:44 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


OK, so, unrelated to the "death" aspect, this part of the story stood out to me:

You might not believe that your institutional doppelgänger works against you, but it does not seem like a stretch to argue that the sum of your activity as a consumer—your social-media posts, credit history, the freakishly accurate profile advertisers have of you—is its own creature, and can move about independently of you.

I was actually thinking about this just last night when I threw away about the 1,000th catalog addressed to the prior occupant of my house. Commercial mail like catalogs doesn't forward, even if you leave a new address with the post office, and I am getting sick of throwing out her crap! ... I thought initially. Then I realized I hadn't really had to deal with any catalogs or political mailings directed to me, really, since I last moved - I'm sure the current tenant of my old apartment is enjoying those materials.

And it just struck me all at once as so profoundly stupid at wasteful, for all these mailing lists that we don't particularly want to be on, and can't manage very well if at all, to continue trying to track us, but sort of mostly failing at it, until everyone is getting a blend of junkmail delivered to their house based on the purchasing habits of the prior 10 years' worth of occupants. And nobody gives a shit about any of it, but nobody can make it stop! It's like a wearying simulacrum of marketing that we all just trudge through because we don't know what else to do.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 2:45 PM on March 27 [33 favorites]


Her mom and one of her sisters died and no one could be bothered to do more than try to call her?

AskMe does occasionally get "How do I make sure that my family can never, ever track me down?" questions, in which the poster says that their family will use a variety of deceptions to lure them into contact. Maybe it was the sort of thing where they were all so estranged that the phone call was the last in a series of attempted contacts, the failure of which had been interpreted as intentional avoidance on her part?
posted by XMLicious at 2:45 PM on March 27 [9 favorites]


While this is very sad I don't really see how it is new or has anything to do with technology. I'm sure I've read similar stories before where people were dead for years and found buried under the piled up mail in their home.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:46 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Here are "Digital Death and Afterlife Online Services List" is a collection of a range of products and websites, gathered by The Digital Beyond, a site that was founded as "a way to spread awareness of digital afterlife issues and to provide expert guidance to companies and individuals."
posted by filthy light thief at 2:46 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


> It's like a wearying simulacrum of marketing that we all just trudge through because we don't know what else to do.

Ever lived in a student house? One year I was living in a seven-bedroom apartment, so we were getting mail for all seven of us plus seemingly several years' worth of the past occupants. Magazine subscriptions, catalogs, you name it...even one hand-written Christmas card. We could have built a second house out of it by the time the school year ended.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:54 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


And it just struck me all at once as so profoundly stupid at wasteful, for all these mailing lists that we don't particularly want to be on, and can't manage very well if at all, to continue trying to track us, but sort of mostly failing at it, until everyone is getting a blend of junkmail delivered to their house based on the purchasing habits of the prior 10 years' worth of occupants. And nobody gives a shit about any of it, but nobody can make it stop!

FTC's Consumer Information page on stopping unsolicited mail, phone calls and email has some ways to stop some of the junk you get in the US, and Catalog Choice purports to help people opt out of junk mail from over 8,000 companies, and Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Mail Preference Service does the same sort of thing.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:55 PM on March 27 [13 favorites]


Apparantly at one point the police did do a wellness check, according to the Facebook page. They took a cat and a dog but apparently did not check the garage.

The second linked story says there was a wellness check in 2007, which is before she quit her job and told her neighbors she was moving abroad. Sounds like she might have actually broken all ties to the family before all this happened.
posted by Etrigan at 2:55 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


For online profiles, I think we should do it this way: if you haven't used a service for six months, you get an email asking if you still want to keep your profile. If you don't click the link in the email, the account is deleted.

Would be useful not only when people die, but also for all those accounts you create and then never use because the service wasn't that compelling. It will never happen of course, as no online service would voluntarily reduce their membership and disk space is cheap.
posted by Triplanetary at 3:00 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


wikipedia brown boy detective: I canvassed this lady's neighborhood for voter turnout twice while she was dead in her garage. I saw the neighborhood on TV when the news broke and immediately got weirded out. Such a strange story.

According to the first article, she's shown to have voted in one of those elections that she was supposed to be dead for. Either it's a clerical error as the article speculates or you're some kind of necromancer.
posted by dr_dank at 3:01 PM on March 27 [10 favorites]


I am very sad about his death, and I get tired of Facebook cheerfully suggesting that I should become friends with him.

As I recall, you can "memorialize" someone's Facebook account by emailing the support team, but you need to provide a link to their obituary/death notice. I had to do this to get Facebook to stop suggesting I "reconnect" with my late father. Insult to fucking injury.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:23 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


It will never happen of course, as no online service would voluntarily reduce their membership and disk space is cheap.

LiveJournal did that to me. They sent me an email saying "hey, you haven't used your account in X amount of time, if you don't log in within 30 days we will close it" and I ignored that email and they closed it.
posted by ambrosia at 3:26 PM on March 27


Triplanetary: It will never happen of course, as no online service would voluntarily reduce their membership and disk space is cheap.

Google actually does this with their Inactive Account Manager. You can even have it give someone else access to your account data if you have no activity for a pre-defined time period. If my wife can stop me from accessing any of my Google accounts for 3 months (or if I am otherwise indisposed) she will get access to all my data.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:29 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


one of the early stories included a statement from her sister who stated that she "hadn't spoken to her in years"... We probably could have figured that out....

By the same token, when I read the cutline to one of the photos:
It's suspected the body could he [sic] that of Pia Davida Farrenkopf, a 49-year-old woman who lived in the home and hasn't been seen in years
I found myself wondering, "nominally 49 now, or 49 at the presumed time of death?" The latter would seem more tactful and formally correct, but I somehow suspect it is the former.

Now if you will excuse me, I am off to write to write an FPP about 116-year-old aviator Amelia Earhart.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:34 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Maybe it was the sort of thing where they were all so estranged that the phone call was the last in a series of attempted contacts, the failure of which had been interpreted as intentional avoidance on her part?

Sure, I assume that there was some sort of estrangement, which is in itself a shitty family situation, regardless of whose fault it was or wasn't.

I don't know, even in my worst "I'm going to die alone and unloved," moments, I at least have the comfort of knowing that someone among my sprawling immigrant family is always going to remember me and want to check up on me. It's heartbreaking that Pia was just forgotten and left to mummify.
posted by yasaman at 3:40 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


It was kind of a big deal for me to close the facebook account of my wife after she died. I didn't do it for six months, because I wanted the memories embedded in that account to stay around. What finally got me to do it was that I wanted to change my status to "widowed" because keeping it "married" to a dead person seemed wrong, but if I changed it and didn't close her account then her account would be left "unmarried" which seemed awful. Better to close it at that point. It just made more sense.
posted by edheil at 3:42 PM on March 27 [23 favorites]


One other thing is that I don't know if it's necessarily sadder that nobody noticed her death for so long. A solitary life can be very fulfilling as well. It's definitely unusual and strange, and I can definitely see how it could be particularly sad for the people who believed she was ok... but in a cosmic sense I don't think it's really any worse than it would be for a very social person to die suddenly and mysteriously.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:45 PM on March 27 [10 favorites]


One of my uncles passed away in 2012 and my aunt continues to use his Facebook account. It's his name, but her photo. I find it creepy as all get out but I'm not going to tell my aunt how to grieve so I keep my mouth shut. But. Creepy.
posted by ambrosia at 3:46 PM on March 27


My father's wife sends my sister and I gifts from her several years deceased parents. It seems to be little items from their house and certainly could be seen as sweet and sentimental except that she signs the cards as if the gifts were given directly from her parents. It really weirds me out, but I'm trying to go with it. May Pete and Ruth live on through their tchotchkes!
posted by Polyhymnia at 3:57 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


I'm just sad that my dad was not a very um prolific, or voluble Facebook user. I see his skeletal account now and it makes me really sad and want to cry as it feels like a metaphor for his death in general and what is left behind: a ragged and piecemeal collection, splinters of a person that miss the vibrant, complex, glorious reality. I would feel better if it was a less transparent ghost, instead of another reminder of how much is lost over the horizon, never to return.
posted by smoke at 3:59 PM on March 27 [13 favorites]


So this is the new "one of those New York deaths where nobody notices for 2 weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway," eh? Except it's now five years because nobody notices until the bills stop being paid. Also, it took that long for her to run out of money?

I even look like this girl, so I am feeling creeped out that someday this will be me. God knows that after my mom is gone, my relatives won't care or notice.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:09 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


"Mummified in Michigan" seems of questionable taste to me, but if it really is the family who set up that page I guess it's their prerogative.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:42 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


I read these stories now and again and sometimes wonder how many decaying bodies there are right now lying in their beds or slouched in front of their TV that will not be chanced upon for years. When the news story of Yvette Vickers made the rounds in 2011, Farrenkopf had already seemingly been there in her garage for two years and would be there years more.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:44 PM on March 27


In the event of my death I would like my account to remain open as I plan to attempt to post from beyond the grave.
posted by humanfont at 4:44 PM on March 27 [8 favorites]


I mean honestly I could totally see this happening to me. It's not unheard-of for me to vanish for a week or two with only the wife knowing where I went because I got a last-second "Hey we need you for a thing on the other side of the country tomorrow" and had to pack and jump on a plane. I don't call people really and only trade emails with the family sporadically. If I weren't married it'd be super easy for me to go missing for months on end and people only really notice that I stopped using Twitter for months. So another there but for the grace of god here.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:45 PM on March 27


I mean honestly I could totally see this happening to me.

I know what you mean. My job involves lots of travel and surprise site visits so I am on the road for several weeks at least every year, so my officemates don't expect to see me and the people on the receiving end aren't waiting for me or anything. I lived far away from family and there were no friends I saw with any regularity in town.

I lived alone for the first five years of this job. Part of the reason I moved in with my SO was I didn't want to get felled by a sudden illness or injury in the home and lie there rotting until the super came to see why I was ignoring the letters about the rent not being paid anymore. An ex-bandmate of mine perished in just such a way twenty years ago -- lived alone, not especially close to anyone, died of a seizure in his living room and lay there until the superintendent of his apartment found him weeks later. (The building owner was actually pretty pissed because the hardwood floor was ruined and had to be replaced.)
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:56 PM on March 27


i live in a rural area, my brothers are in other states, and there is only one time a month, the witching hour, where i absolutely have to be somewhere and would be missed. i hope i die indoors so my cat doesn't have to share me with wild animals.
posted by bruce at 5:01 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Triplanetary: "For online profiles, I think we should do it this way: if you haven't used a service for six months, you get an email asking if you still want to keep your profile. If you don't click the link in the email, the account is deleted.

Would be useful not only when people die, but also for all those accounts you create and then never use because the service wasn't that compelling. It will never happen of course, as no online service would voluntarily reduce their membership and disk space is cheap.
"

I hate forums that do this. It's nice to come back to a site that you haven't been to in a while and pick up your old account. It's not like there is a significant cost to carrying the inactive bytes.
posted by Mitheral at 5:44 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


My kids often stomp and yell in the house during the day. I've been losing the blanket tug-of-war with my wife almost every night for the past 20 years. Any time I'm sitting still, one or more of our cats think that they need to park themselves on me. I wake up in the middle of the night halfway on the floor because our black lab has snuggled me out of the bed. My mom sometimes calls me at 7:00 on a Sunday morning (I told her 6 was too early.)

These things annoy the hell out of me but they don't annoy me so much today.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:55 PM on March 27 [29 favorites]


When I think of forums sending "keep your account active, click here" mail, all I can think is what an opportunity it would be for phishing.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:25 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Also, I had to keep checking the date on this article because I could swear I read a similar article about someone found dead in their car in their garage after a prolonged period of time (probable much shorter than 5 years, though).
posted by rmd1023 at 6:30 PM on March 27


Every so often, after I picked up my grandmother's habit of researching our family genealogy online after her death, I'd come across occasional posts she'd left in various genealogy forums asking questions related to her research. She died long before Facebook was even a thing, but it was always such a bittersweet experience to come across those little impermanent but also weirdly timeless traces of her existence on the internet. It was reassuring in some ways, as I could almost imagine she was still right there, back home on the computer, somewhere else but still present in the world after a fashion. But it was such a shock the first time it happened it felt like I was seeing her ghost.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:37 PM on March 27 [12 favorites]


Wolfdog: Does it have someone particular in mind or is it just more of a general lifestyle suggestion?

We have in-home motion capture and 3d scanning now a la Kinect.

Facebook has tons of data logs about you to feed into a customizable chatbot after you die.

Facebook has Oculus Rift.

Séanceville. It all makes sense now.
posted by Skwirl at 7:30 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


"Mummified in Michigan" seems of questionable taste to me

The niece (?) explains this, wanting the page to be findable to anyone who had seen the newspaper story, or some such. Apparently they have asked FB to change the name, as the ID seems fairly certain, and FB is doing whatever magicks they do before making that happen...

Sounds like she was an intensely private person -- I wouldn't be too surprised to find out there was foul play, in fact my head has already built a (not very interesting) script. I do hope her family find the answers they are looking for.
posted by allthinky at 7:45 PM on March 27


Automatic mortgage and utilities payments, sure. But when you stop paying taxes, people come looking for you.

The city came and got her pets but never came back to check up on things? In Pontiac? Neighbors taking care of her lawn for five years without doing anything about it? My neighbors would probably burn my house down if I let my lawn grow for six months, and I'm not even sure I would blame them.

I'm really hoping against hope that the real story is a financial software wizard rigs the ultimate con against her completely corrupt, inept employer (Yeah, I said it, Chrysler. Come at me) and disappears forever to a tropical retirement, Office Space style.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 9:38 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


When yahoo did that dormant account scrub a little while back, a lot of people complained, but I was grateful because it finally made my father's yahoo IM account go away. He died in 2009, and I couldn't bring myself to remove him from my buddy list. I always wondered what I would do if suddenly it showed him as logging in...
posted by davejay at 10:20 PM on March 27


In 2007, when my best friend passed away in a tragic accident, I emailed Facebook in an attempt to access her account and their response was, "Facebook is for real people only," and then locked down her account with a 20-day period until deletion. I begged, and they wouldn't back down. I cried so much over that stupid shitty account; when they pulled her content offline on day 20, it felt like another death. Like every trace of her would just slowly disappear.

After Virginia Tech, they changed their policies to allow for memorialized accounts, and allowed families to request past-deleted accounts. I couldn't bring myself to send the request. Her Facebook page is gone, but she hasn't disappeared for me yet.
posted by samthemander at 11:21 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


The city came and got her pets but never came back to check up on things?

Again, this happened as a result of a wellness check they did _two years_ before she died. It also seems to be before she left her job at Chrysler Financial, which is interesting. Was she in a depressed state and not taking care of herself -- was that the subject of the e-mail?

But when you stop paying taxes, people come looking for you.

It seems likely the taxes were paid through mortgage escrow. The foreclosure happened after those automatic payments ceased because the bank account was empty.

I wouldn't be too surprised to find out there was foul play

I doubt it very much.
posted by dhartung at 12:09 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


In the event of my death I would like my account to remain open as I plan to attempt to post from beyond the grave.
posted by humanfont at 7:44 PM on March 27


Now I want to set up a dead-man's switch. "Hey guys, thought you'd like to know I finally made it to heaven. The food here is crap, and the portions are too small!" or some such. Maybe just put out a one liner every few months or so until my hosting runs out. F/F would probably be upset the first time it happens but then they know me so...
posted by mcrandello at 12:15 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


The detail of the black mold from floor to ceiling kind of stuck out to me. Is that a thing? Is there something about having an active, living person in a house that prevents mold? Or does it imply that a door or window was left open the whole time? Or perhaps that the roof began to leak but there was no one to notice it and call someone to repair it? Help me out here, that's such a strange detail.

And what about the mail? She probably had paperless billing, but even with that I still get all these stupid weekly circulars and "To: Resident" advertisements. At a certain point, the mailbox just fills up with that stuff. Maybe that's one of the joys of having a mail slot instead of a mailbox, but the picture seems to make it seem like this is a suburban location where mail slots are rare.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:02 AM on March 28


Oh, the earlier article seems to contain answers to my questions:
The home is in foreclosure and the bank holding the mortgage sent a contractor on March 5 to patch a hole that neighbors complained squirrels were using to enter the home.
and
Investigators said she kept a PO Box, but other reports were that she instructed her mail carrier to reject all of her mail return-to-sender.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:19 AM on March 28


I've heard of this happening in Europe (Germany, I think) from time to time.

Last year the police in Den Haag found a woman who'd been lying dead in her house for the past decade, who'd been 74 when she died.

If you're elderly, with little or no friends or family, it can happen, especially in a neighbourhood that sees a lot of people passing through. You got your pension coming in automatically, your bills going out automatically, nothing suspicious happening until somebody needs to be in your house for some reason or other. You just lie there until you're mummified.

But that won't happen to me, as my cats will have eaten me before it gets to that stage. Already have to make sure I don't sleep too deeply or I waken up to find them staring at me, speculating.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:37 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


I would feel better if it was a less transparent ghost, instead of another reminder of how much is lost over the horizon, never to return.

That's not always better. My late wife was an active blogger for years and the end result is just that many more reminders of her loss for me to stumble over online.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:38 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


Even if you're estranged from most of your family and/or cut ties, surely the death of a parent merits more than some phone calls.

No, estrangement can mean "I will not know or care when you die. Goodbye."
posted by telstar at 2:08 AM on March 28 [6 favorites]


This is loneliness.
posted by Termite at 6:37 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of assumptions being made here. We don't know if she was lonely. She may have really enjoyed living alone. Maybe there were family issues that necessitated her cutting all ties with them, and that may have been fine with her, too. It's a weird situation, but I'm finding it hard to automatically judge that it was a sad, lonely existence for her. Perhaps the family is making an attempt to look less neglectful in the eyes of the media?
posted by Kokopuff at 7:28 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I can understand how this might happen and I even suspect it might happen to me eventually. With few friends and family to give a damn about me and the neighbours not caring, it would be easy to die and not be noticed. Without being to enamoured with the past, there are positive elements to having smaller, more tightly bound communities.
posted by elephantday at 7:43 AM on March 28


My wife is estranged/disowned from her family. I have never met her family, and likely never will. I know she had sporadic contact with one of her sisters, but she really didn't want to get dragged into the viper's pit of emotional manipulation that apparently runs rampant in her family. One of her brothers didn't talk to the family for over 20 years. We are going on 15.

We were once travelling through the town where one of hers sister lived, so beforehand I suggested we meet up, so I at least know some of her family. It never happened because the sister was upset that my wife didn't come to their mother's funeral. The one that nobody even attempted to tell her about, so she didn't even know.

Both her parents died during since my wife was disowned. We got a call on our answering machine from her mother when her father died, but the message was just to call them back. She didn't call back, it was particularly odd since we had moved several times and changed phone numbers w/o forwarding to avoid her family finding us. While her mother was on her death bed, she asked to see my wife. I thought it was so she could make amends for the estrangement. It was apparently so my wife could come and apologize for whatever slight had occurred 15 years ago that led to my wife leaving the family.
posted by Badgermann at 7:43 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


The point that I conveniently left off is that sometimes there are good reasons why family members don't know anything about what happened to someone else in their family, even for years.
posted by Badgermann at 7:53 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


rmd1023: "Also, I had to keep checking the date on this article because I could swear I read a similar article about someone found dead in their car in their garage after a prolonged period of time (probable much shorter than 5 years, though)."

There was this one about 2 1/2 years ago.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:13 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


On two separate occasions my mother refused contact with me for a seven-year period. No amount of calling or writing her received a response, and I finally made an across-state trip to talk to her directly - she refused to answer the door (this was the second period). On the first occasion, I had had a baby and she felt that we were too young and couldn't afford a child (I was 19 and had been married for a year and a half). On the second occasion, it was my daughter who had just given birth. She was unmarried and my mother was furious that she hadn't had an abortion - again, she was too young and couldn't afford a child. Seven years each time! The third time was only four years; I had traveled from Washington State to Tucson to help her because she was very, very ill. I stayed for six months, but she was angry that I wouldn't move there to take care of her (I had caregivers hired for her and had offered to have her come to Washington and I'd take care of her there, but she refused). She lived another four years and left word with everyone that when she died I wasn't even to be notified, and the same for my daughter. My aunt called me when she died or I'd never have known.

Every family is different, but estrangement is common. There are elderly people liviing in this building who haven't had any contact with their children in years and that's just fine with them. Anyone making judgement on Pia's family situation needs to get over their idealistic notion that blood is thicker than water - they're so wrong about that.

I could feel terribly sorry for this lady's lack of connections, family and/or friends, etc., but I don't because I've learned that being alone is not the same as being lonely. She may have been perfectly comfortable with her life as it was - or perhaps she was planning a big, new change - travel, relocation, adventure, advancing her education - who knows? The circumstances of her death are odd and I hope they figure out what happened, but I don't mourn her life - only her death.
posted by aryma at 2:15 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


Chrysostom: That's it. Thanks.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:29 PM on March 28


There's also a fascinating version of the dead woman in the car story that's annotated by a journalism professor (?) and the original author which goes into detail about the nuts and bolts of how the story came together.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:17 PM on March 28


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