Where do they all belong?
January 10, 2008 1:25 PM   Subscribe

"We all leave something behind, but it looked like Olive had left nothing." Olive Archer passed away after five years in a care home, five years that passed without a visitor. Concerned that Olive was an Eleanor Rigby the minister prepared for her service by making an appeal to the public to find if anyone remembered Olive. Friends were found. Sadly, she is not alone. Maybe she needed SagaZone.
posted by geekyguy (45 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
:( that made me very sad.
posted by eatdonuts at 1:32 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

While it is, indeed, a touching story, I'd like to know where all this caring was while Olive was still alive?
Everyone coming out of the woodwork to mourn her now seems more than a little self-serving. "Oh my, we neglected this poor woman for all these years. Let's say some nice things now. More tea, anyone?"
Sorry. My grumpy, cynical old man is visiting today
posted by Thorzdad at 1:33 PM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

It's really sad that the last people to step forward were her family members.
posted by LN at 1:34 PM on January 10, 2008

Good lord, that's sad. Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 1:34 PM on January 10, 2008

All right, now we need some of you smarty-pants tech gurus to create a nice, easy, freeware program that allows elders to sign up to get pen pals to send them regular emails, photos, etc. and then links it with social networking communities, like MeFi.

And yes, you can put me down as a contact if you start that on Projects. This story made me depressed.
posted by misha at 1:39 PM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Sad story. Nobody should have to die alone. But I find Akasha Lonsdale's actions very commendable.
posted by Kattullus at 1:41 PM on January 10, 2008

Good point Thorzdad. Yes, do we feel as overwhelming a compassion for living people who are lonely? Or iare we repulsed by the desperateness of their situation and is that repulsion only taken away by their dying to leave room for the empathy?
posted by jouke at 1:43 PM on January 10, 2008

Well she wasn't really alone because she was in a home right?
posted by zeoslap at 1:49 PM on January 10, 2008

Also being alone doesn't necessarily mean that you are lonely. I don't mean to come off as hard nosed, I just don't like the thought of quietly fading away without anyone noticing and trying to spin it a little differently I guess.
posted by zeoslap at 1:53 PM on January 10, 2008

I can't help but notice the "get back into the kitchen" bit. The fact that she had no children and was never married (horrors) is presented as tragic, and there was a tone implying that if she'd just been a proper woman and gotten married the whole problem would never have happened.

Or maybe I'm just oversensitive after Matthew's staggering output of misogyny....
posted by sotonohito at 1:56 PM on January 10, 2008

Well she wasn't really alone because she was in a home right?

Ever been in a home? Some of them can be horrifically lonely and alienating. I'd rather wander off into the woods to die than some of the homes they put people in.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:07 PM on January 10, 2008

Damn, that was a sad story. Unfortunately, as the articles pointed out, it's getting more and more common.

Western society does not seem to be structured to deal well with the problem of isolation among the elderly. One idea that intrigues me as a possible solution is the concept of intergenerational daycare, where eldercare centres/nursing homes are combined with child care centres or preschools. (Two examples I have heard of are in the Netherlands and Japan.) The kids have lots of one-on-one attention, and the elderly people have kids around to brighten their day and keep them mentally and even physically active).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:07 PM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

maybe I'm just cynical, but I can't help but wonder if the family members that finally showed up only did so because there had been enough publicity generated that friends and neighbors started to guilt trip them.
posted by shmegegge at 2:08 PM on January 10, 2008

See also this recent This American Life episode, Home Alone. It tells a similar story, that of a Mary Ann, detailing the work of an entire social services department in LA tasked with finding the stories of the many people who do die alone and, apparently, unconnected.

Everyone coming out of the woodwork to mourn her now seems more than a little self-serving.

Isn't that the way of it, though? Thinking of my own life, I have some elderly relatives I don'treally call that often. I feel lik1e we're not all that close anyway, and talking would be awkward. I have a few acquaintances and staffers who are elderly and live alone, but if something happened to them, would I visit them in the hospital? Or would I feel that wasn't really my role, that it would be too personal a thing to do for someone I don't know that well? But if I heard a story like this after the fact of their death, I'd feel awful.

How well are we supposed to know our acquaintances? How close are we supposed to be? We isolate the elderly so much in our society. If I didn't work and volunteer with a few people in their 70s and 80s, I'd never meet them. And those who aren't in great shape may not be able to work and volunteer - where will they go for social connections? Used to be churches, but that seems less common today.

Though I agree that there's a hint of misogyny sometimes in stories of women who die alone, as an unmarried woman it still gives me food for thought. Having children connects you to an entire network of peer parents. As they grow, children create an avenue for you to get to know people and worlds. They keep you involved in things and introduce you to new places and people. They are excellent network expanders. If you have no children, you can form friendships (if your personality allows) and benefit from the social connections they create, but a friend 'tribe' who will take as good care of you as family will may be tough to find. Siblings and their families become very important - if you have them, and if you get along.

Family size in Western countries is decreasing dramatically. Will we evolve ways to meet, get to know, become friendly with, and take care of seniors who don't have families? What about when we're old?
posted by Miko at 2:13 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just heard this story a few minutes ago on BBC World. Very touching. Cheers to Rev. Lonsdale.
posted by caddis at 2:17 PM on January 10, 2008

So she had a lip service. That's very sad. I'm with Thorzdad. Where were these friends while she was alive?
posted by studentbaker at 2:21 PM on January 10, 2008

I have, in fact, conducted funerals with zero mourners. Though it's not required, I like to say a few words (to absolutely no one) on the nature of life and our place in the universe. Once, I got my brother to sing "Row Row Row Your Boat" in rounds with me (for the "...life is but a dream" part), which amused the cemetery crew and made us feel a bit better.

Recently, we buried a woman from New Orleans who had been abandoned by her family when she was 18. She was sent to live in a mental facility in Jackson, LA. She had a lot of mental and emotional problems that made her difficult to live with. Once she was institutionalized, her family immediately cut off all contact. When she turned 50, she was considered too old for their care facility and she was moved from the mental institution to a nursing home. She lived there for 30 years. She never had a single visitor. She was abusive to the staff almost constantly.

When she died, we contacted her family to notify them and arrange for her burial. They pretended that they had no idea who she was until we threatened to bring legal action against them. They, again, refused to have anything to do with her. They signed the necessary papers to "abandon" her body to the state. We buried her in an unmarked grave in a public cemetery. A few nurses from the home came to witness the burial. They told a few stories about how hateful she acted to them (especially about how much she called them all (pardon me here) "ignernt niggers"). I asked if they came just to make sure she was good in dead and they laughed. They said that she'd been there at the home for so long, she was like a cranky relative who always spouted off and pissed people off, but you loved them because they were your family (except that she wasn't.)

To me, that'll always remain a somewhat twisted testament to the power of a community. No matter how you find it.
posted by ColdChef at 2:22 PM on January 10, 2008 [40 favorites]

My dear husband visits residents of a care facility several times a week.
posted by Cranberry at 2:22 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

misha, 2 sites already exist (via quick googling) so you can sign up here!

  • Write a senior citizen

  • Elders without walls

  • posted by Salmonberry at 2:35 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

    I can't read it right now, I know it'll hit too close to home. My mother is that way... she's pretty much blind and alone. By her own choice, it's mostly just her sitting there talking to her parakeet. She says she never expected to live this long, and I sadly but honestly replied that's because she's spent so many years and so much energy focusing on dying instead of living. She agreed, and it made me sad. It's been a tough last ten years for me. Empathy is not always our friend.

    I really don't want to be like my mom. It scares me.
    posted by miss lynnster at 2:39 PM on January 10, 2008

    Western society does not seem to be structured to deal well with the problem of isolation among the elderly.

    Especially now, when the elderly population is growing by leaps and bounds.
    posted by pineapple at 2:43 PM on January 10, 2008

    Guess we got a good one... can't take granddaddy away from his 'retirement home' for more than a couple of hours before he keeps reminding you that he wants to go home... he's like 99 and loves the place and his friends there.
    posted by zengargoyle at 2:51 PM on January 10, 2008

    The news article said she was a private person. While her story strikes me as sad, I know it is me projecting my feelings on her. Perhaps she did not want anyone at her funeral and never wanted visitors. We will never know if we should be sad for her plight or happy she got to spend her last years the way she wanted.
    posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:04 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

    What does it really matter? She is dead. Zero, two, or four million people at her funeral will do nothing for her. We mourn for people like this and find it sad because we think of ourselves. It's that concern and that concern only that drive the people in the story to find friends or relatives. Olive Archer is gone and it won't matter a whit.
    posted by xmutex at 3:14 PM on January 10, 2008

    Is there a Little Brothers and Little Sisters program?
    posted by katillathehun at 3:21 PM on January 10, 2008

    Zero, two, or four million people at her funeral will do nothing for her.

    You're starting with the incorrect assumption that the funeral is "for" her.
    posted by ColdChef at 3:25 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

    You're starting with the incorrect assumption that the funeral is "for" her.

    I didn't say that. It's she that's being buried, it's her funeral. I agree with your comment though.
    posted by xmutex at 3:27 PM on January 10, 2008

    I'm depressed now :(
    posted by mike3k at 3:27 PM on January 10, 2008

    I can't tell from reading the article, but hopefully her last years weren't drawn out and miserable. JohnnyGunn does have a point - maybe she didn't want anyone around. I can't say I find the prospect of an unattended funeral too frightening though - if I happen to outlive my social network, my own funeral could be just a sparsely attended - note to self, leave behind some inflation protected bonds (like I-bonds) to pay for expenses/executor(lawyer) with instructions to not dig up people I didn't stay in touch with.
    posted by Calloused_Foot at 3:39 PM on January 10, 2008

    I think people (and especially senior citizen who aren't web savvy or computer literate) need a personal touch, that why I think becoming a self-appointed guardian angel is a good idea.

    But SagaZone is still great.
    posted by survivorman at 3:59 PM on January 10, 2008

    The prospect of dying alone doesn't scare me. I find the expression silly, as a matter of fact. You're almost sure to die alone - what, you were planning on taking someone with you?

    It's the idea of living alone that bothers me. I can't imagine anything more horrible than not getting a single visit from anyone in five years. But then maybe Eleanor did have enough friends at the nursing home to satisfy her or maybe she wasn't with it enough to care.
    posted by orange swan at 4:10 PM on January 10, 2008

    Olive. Not Eleanor.
    posted by orange swan at 4:11 PM on January 10, 2008

    geekyguy, I really commend you on your insight on this posting. This story brings to greater awareness the silent suffering and profound loneliness of people around each and every one of us.

    Many of these people would be happy if someone would just inquire as to their well-being from time to time.
    posted by survivorman at 4:15 PM on January 10, 2008

    Very sad story. My grandmother passed in 78. My Grandfather retired shortly after and would sit alone in his chair in a little house and when you asked what he ws doing he always replied " waiting to go with momma."

    He finally got his wish in 2006.

    Scary indeed.
    posted by winks007 at 4:33 PM on January 10, 2008

    I know how this happens.

    I feel terrible. Families drift apart. My family was never very close. Literally. We lived over seas a great deal.

    My grandmother (the last grand parent I have alive) is alone in a home in Idaho after the death my uncle who took care of her. She is 94. I haven't seen her in maybe 10 years or so. She is not quite all there and lived as kind of a shut in for nearly 20 years. She won't speak on the phone. And my mother goes to see her a few times per year (we all live about 500 miles away) but there is a rift of some sort between them.
    posted by tkchrist at 4:42 PM on January 10, 2008

    posted by ersatz at 5:25 PM on January 10, 2008

    Well, I can only speak for my own experience. And the fact is, my mom has NEVER gotten along with people. So really, I can't put her in a home. Can't hire someone to stay with her. From her perspective, I might as well waterboard her. She just insists she's "happy" in a miserable voice that I know is lying because I don't think she remembers what happiness feels like. If I ignored her wishes and she suddenly was around people though, would she make friends and have a happier life? Would it make everything okay so that her last years would be wonderful? Very probably not. That's just not who she is. That's only who I wish she was.

    It's taken time for me to accept, but sometimes people are alone for a reason. And even though it makes us feel like shit, we can't take it on, we have to accept that we can't change them. It's their life. They make their own choices.

    We are all responsible for our own salvations in the end. Sucky as that may feel sometimes.
    posted by miss lynnster at 6:38 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

    "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." James 1:27. I'm not Christian, but truer words were never spoken.
    posted by facetious at 7:27 PM on January 10, 2008

    After reading that, I am going to log off right now and write a letter to my grandmother-in-law and see how she's doing.. and tell her I miss her.

    Thanks for reminding me not to forget.
    posted by czechmate at 7:32 PM on January 10, 2008

    intergenerational daycare, where eldercare centres/nursing homes are combined with child care centres or preschools.

    I've worked in preschools that have a "Foster Grandparent" program where each class has a "grandparent" who spends the mornings in the class with them, having snacks and reading books and whatnot. It's really amazing, both for the kids and the "grandparents."
    posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:01 PM on January 10, 2008

    That sounds so cute, grapefruitmoon.

    Of course, my mom would be rolling her eyes & goin' "What do I look like, a free babysitter?!?"
    posted by miss lynnster at 8:07 PM on January 10, 2008

    "What do I look like, a free babysitter?!?"

    IIRC, they get paid. At least in cookies.
    posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:41 PM on January 10, 2008

    I just looked at SagaZone and it's hard to tell how it's different from other social-networking sites like Vox. Is there a special reason that it's good for older people? Just curious about what's behind the front page, and unwilling to register if it's the same-old.

    The two sites Salmonberry linked are sorta interesting - but the first one seems like new contacts are disabled, and the second one -- well, apart from having dead links in the useful places, it's in 16-pt Comic Sans.

    The idea is applaud-worthy - but I agree, the time is ripe for new interfaces. In fact, the concept of intergenerationally friendly web design is kinda cool.
    posted by Miko at 8:50 PM on January 10, 2008

    She looks pretty cheerful in the picture. The article tells us nothing about how she lived her life.

    "Lucy was 87, upon her death bed
    At the senior home, where she had previously checked in
    Traded in the locks and clips for a head rest
    Traded in the charcoal sticks for arthritis, it had to happen
    And she drew no more, just sat and watched the dawn
    Had a television in the room that she'd never turned on
    Lucy pinned up a life worth's of pictures on the wall
    And sat and smiled, looked each one over, just to laugh at it all
    Now Rico, he had passed, 'bout 5 years back
    So the visiting hours pulled in a big flock o' nothin
    She'd never spoken once throughout the spanning of her life
    Until the day she leaned forward, grinned and pulled the nurse aside
    And she said:
    "Look, I've never had a dream in my life
    Because a dream is what you wanna do, but still haven't pursued
    I knew what I wanted and did it till it was done
    So i've been the dream that I wanted to be since day one!"
    The nurse jumped back,
    She'd never heard Lucy even talk,
    'Specially words like that
    She walked over to the door, and pulled it closed behind
    Then Lucy blew a kiss to each one of her pictures
    And she died."
    posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:59 PM on January 10, 2008

    What does it really matter? She is dead.

    Allan Felix: That's quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn't it?
    Woman: Yes, it is.
    Allan Felix: What does it say to you?
    Woman (speaking in monotone): It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless, bleak straitjacket in a black, absurd cosmos.
    Allan Felix: What are you doing Saturday night?
    Woman: Committing suicide.
    Allan Felix: What about Friday night?
    --Play It Again, Sam
    posted by octobersurprise at 5:41 AM on January 11, 2008

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