Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dying Alone

For 2 years, 6 months, and 17 days I lived in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I remember my time there to the day since I was originally hired to live there for 6 months for training while the company that hired me finalized plans for an office in Des Moines, Iowa where I lived at the time. I never intended to stay long but time dragged on so I found myself increasingly involved in this community including a local project sponsored by Norwest Banks (which eventually merged into Wells Fargo ) called -- "Paint-a-Thon".

The central objective of this program was to mobilize teams of volunteers across the community to paint the homes of the elderly/disabled/poor in an effort to retain the value of the homes, improve the beauty of the neighborhood, and assist these residents so they could continue living in well-maintained homes. The one home I remember painting was for a widow who was probably nearly 80 years old who had a warm personality but apparently a very dis-engaged family. I know this because as we completed our nearly two week old painting project I learned that this "lonely widow who needed assistance" had several children and grand children. So I had to wonder -- "where the hell is her family and why aren't they painting this home or even pooling their money to pay for a professional painter??"

I was reminded of this woman today since she was living alone when I read an Associated Press article ( entitled, "Mummified man found in front of TV." The story goes that Mr. Vincenzo Ricardo, 70 years old, was found dead in his chair by Hampton Bays, New York police responding to a call about burst water pipes. Mr. Ricardo had been dead for over one year sitting in front of his television which was still on according to police. One neighbor, Diane Devon, was quoted saying, "We never thought to check on him."

Two books speak to the "sense of community" that Americans have or want to acquire:

1.) "Bowling Alone" by Robert Putnam -- who argues that the sense of community is dead in America and people are searching for "something to connect with....."


2.) "Applebee's America" by Matt Dowd and others -- which argues that Americans have found "community" but it is not geographic in nature but is definitely strong and adaptive due to technology and mobility.

Having died alone over one year ago with NO ONE missing him -- family, neighbors, friends, or even apparently his local electric utility company -- really makes me wonder who was Vincenzo Ricardo?

A search on Google for "Vincenzo Ricardo" yields 676,000 results which I can safely predict will grow this week since I see bloggers already commenting on this death. I did not review the 676,000 search results of course but in my quick review I never saw any reference to him having any family members.

Stories like this one should make us all pause to consider our own ties to our community. Hopefully Mr. Ricardo died peacefully albeit alone.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That story made me incredibly sad... as well as curious about how you go about getting the utility companies to leave you alone for an entire year. It is horrifying to me to think that nobody missed this man.

I must say though, I would have counted every single day I was living in Fort Dodge too. My brother lived there for about 10 years and I shuddered every time I went to visit him. It is just a sad town to drive through.

Holstein Girl