Out In The Cold, Cold Ground
April 3, 2014 5:03 PM   Subscribe

A Certain Kind Of Death is a documentary about what happens to those who die with no next of kin. (Warning: Bodies, sadness)
posted by timsteil (20 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Word of the day: Exsanguination.
posted by _aa_ at 6:05 PM on April 3, 2014

Relevant: The Hart Island Project
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:21 PM on April 3, 2014

Sad but also comforting that someone is at least trying to find a next of kin. The sequencing of the film portrays the ritual, routine aspect of dealing with death- which I found strangely reassuring.
posted by bookrach at 6:28 PM on April 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm kind of torn. I don't mind dying and I guess I don't want to die alone but mostly I don't want the people who love me to be sad when I die. I hope that doesn't sound egotistical because that not how it feels. There are people who love me who will naturally be sad when I die. If I died alone, that wouldn't be the case.
posted by sineater at 6:52 PM on April 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wow. can anyone confirm if that was shot on VHS-C? I know I'm being callous and callow but not much else picks up ambient sound in that fashion. It's probably an admixture with the mics of that time, and not just the magneto film stock, but I'd still like to know.

A good doc. I wonder if they waited a while in order to make sure none of their subjects had a next-of-kin claim them, as I was surprised by some of the full cadaver nudity?
posted by coolxcool=rad at 7:38 PM on April 3, 2014

I am really torn. On the one hand, this sounds really interesting. On the other hand, I live 2000 miles away from my nearest family members and work on the internet and while I have friends, I often don't speak to them for days or even weeks at a time and I'm not sure they'd notice that I wasn't posting on FB and thus I live with moderate anxiety that one day I will die alone in my apartment and no one will find me or worse, that I will be incapacitated but not die and no one will find me. So for those who have watched this, how likely is it to kinda freak me out?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:39 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

jacquilynne this is mostly about people with no family members. It documents the attempts to contact them and what happens when they fail, so as long as everyone doesn't outlive you, no worries!
posted by Pertz at 8:49 PM on April 3, 2014

Saw the first decomposed body and I could already smell it and taste the decomp in the back of my throat. One of the worst parts of my job. Kudos to the photographer who could be in that room without a re-breather. I'll watch this later when my stomach is stronger. In the meantime, I'm happy to answer any questions you guys have about this kind of thing.
posted by ColdChef at 8:59 PM on April 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I couldn't help but imagine the story of the first guy, the one who had no family but who had meticulously planned out his own burial wishes. The cemetery guy said he'd done the planning in 1993, which was the year his partner died of AIDS. I wonder if he'd assumed he wouldn't live much longer in 1993, started planning for the end, and then the new HIV meds that came out around then gave him another 7 years or so. The fact that some unknown person was buried in the plot he'd imagined sharing with his family was sort of the last irony, poor man.

I've always thought that dying at home would be better than in the hospital, but at least in the hospital you're likely to be found pretty quickly. That does seem like no small advantage now that I've seen some of those spaces. I wonder what percentage of people who die at home are found naked.

I also found the degree to which the system tries to track down your family pretty reassuring. Burying 1600 people a year on the county dime in a city as big as LA seems like a comfortingly smallish percentage of the overall deaths.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:33 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I'm ever living old and alone, I want an unobtrusive wearable monitor that will call the ambulance when my stats get weird, because I don't want to die alone, I want to wake up alone and wonder how I got into that nice clean hospital bed.
posted by pracowity at 11:15 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

pracowity, medical alarms (You know, "I've fallen and I can't get up!") don't quite do that, but at least if have a stroke and keel over or something, you can just press a button and signal for help.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:59 AM on April 4, 2014

It is comforting to know that there are such compassionate, respectful people at all stages of the process.
posted by dywypi at 4:33 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've just been to see a play here in London called The Nine o'Clock slot which tackles exactly this subject. Its most touching moment came when a hospital nurse explained to a dying tramp how they'd carefully tend to his body after death.

The Guardian has a feature about the play here.
posted by Paul Slade at 5:35 AM on April 4, 2014

I watched the Titicut Follies 20 years ago and I'm still permanently bummed out by the ending.
posted by whuppy at 6:06 AM on April 4, 2014

A few years ago, I read about the death of a woman in the paper. The obit, which was about three sentences, said there was no next of kin. For some reason I thought this was a lady I had had a few phone conversations with, years earlier, when she called me about something I had written about in the paper. As it turned out, the deceased was not the same person, but before I figured that out, I ended up going to the funeral, just to see if any friends or family turned up so I could express my condolences. When I got there, it was just three people: the funeral director, a deacon from a Catholic church, and me. The funeral director told me he handled two or three of these every month (this is in a rural county). The deacon said I'd done a mitzvah by attending.
posted by beagle at 7:10 AM on April 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I study documentary films, history and theory. I don't know, though, why I find the aesthetics of films like this, and Titicut, a huge favorite of mine, so elegant, compelling, enchanting. The quiet details in this movie are affecting. The worn-in mid-city functionalism, the swinging door latch at 8:00. It's just so much more aesthetic when a documentary isn't persuasive, isn't too rhetorical, is just Here Is The Way Things Are, and that's how you can see their beauty. Even for Titicut.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:02 AM on April 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Because of my nieghborhood (a historic district) and my general desire to keep it up, I got involved peripharily with one of these cases and to learning about a missed opportunity for a friendship and getting to know someone worth getting to know.

I read in the paper about how a man in my neighborhood passed away and was discovered deceased and his very notable and historically significant gun collection was taken into protective custody by the local Police department, as no next of kin could be found immediately and these guns weren't the usual old rusty relics (mostly several legally owned and registered machine gun bringbacks from World War II) found in most "collections".

Over the next few weeks I started seeing moving trucks and dump trucks being used to clear out the house. I went up to the guy who looked like he was in charge (a very distinguished looking older gentleman), introduced myself and asked what was going on.

I learned that in Oregon there is a group of older, semi retired, civil servants who take over the estate of deceased persons with no will or next of kin. There were unpacking and deciding on the value of the home and the late man's property. They did this with great care and understanding and compassion, it was actually touching to talk to them as they (and myself through them) learned about this man, his history, and his life as they went through his possessions. I also learned that all the proceeds from the property are put into the state education capital fund to pay for school maintenance, building and property acquisition.

He was obviously a hoarder and going through that house must have been...difficult at times. This group of people really impressed with me with their integrity and professionalism and as I talked to them over the months (!) it took to clean out a large old crafstmen (about 3000 sf and an 1000 sf detached shop/garage) and ready it for auction. I learned the deceased was a retired engineer, a lifelong tinkerer, a fairly important person in town in the 50's and 60's and brother to a long time editor of sunset magazine.

I really, really wanted to get to know this guy. And I could have, if I had gotten off my ass and been a better neighbor and more outgoing in general. I met him briefly, right before my wedding. We moved to our current house and started scheduling a backyard wedding (its a neat old house). As part of it we introduced ourselves to all our neighbors that would be within hearing of the festivities (we kept it pretty low key but still...)and talked with them all. My memories of him are of an isolated, quirky old guy who could use a friend...
posted by bartonlong at 9:58 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, it eventually crossed a line and made me sad. The ashboxes. Feels.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:00 AM on April 4, 2014

I'll save the link to watch that at a time when I'm feeling up to it. Now is not that time, alas.

I never had to deal with that kind of situation, but I did end up dealing with something close (previously): I rent out half of my two-family home, and I ended up having a tenant die. (Thankfully he died in hospice where he ended up after I called social services on him because he had checked himself out of the hospital AMA and was in a terrible state, and he didn't die in the apartment.) The closest family was distant (mostly estranged except for one guy 1000+ miles away who was evidently unable to deal with getting a form signed and faxed saying I was allowed to deal with his estate), plus the guy's boyfriend who was in and out of a local mental facility (I believe for substance abuse issues), so he was completely unable to deal in any way shape or form. I sent some photos and a guitar to the distant relative and did the best I could to dispose of things in a way that would maximize the public good. Lots of donations to charity of anything that seemed in good shape, and I ended up putting a crapload of things that weren't good enough to donate out on the porch and posting to craigslist free stuff. My goal was to make sure if someone came out of the woodwork and was all "YOU PROFITED FROM HIS DEATH AND STOLE HIS STUFF", I could reasonably claim that, no, the only things I kept was a couple of CD's and the jar of loose change that didn't even cover the cost of shipping the guitar. Personally, my biggest priority was making sure his beloved cat (I'd been going into the apartment for weeks at his request to tend to the cat) went to a local no-kill shelter.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:33 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

This film does NOT need smell-o-vision.
posted by telstar at 6:39 PM on April 4, 2014

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