The Film “Dreams Of A Life” Makes Me Wonder: What’s Really Sad About Dying Alone?

April 3, 2013  |  


Over the weekend, I watched the film “Dreams of a Life”; which is that docudrama about the British black woman, who went three years before anyone noticed that she had died.

You all may recall press about this film and its true story sometime last year but if not, the woman’s name was Joyce Carol Vincent and she died in her London apartment sometime in 2003. Her decomposing skeletal remains were found in 2006 by some county officials, who were sent to evict her. When Joyce’s body was found, her electricity was still functioning (she died in front of the television, which was still on) and a mountain of mail was found behind her front door. After an investigation, it was discovered that Vincent died of natural causes sometime around Christmas. And around her skeleton were Christmas gifts she was in the process of wrapping at the time of her demise.

What’s most mystifying about this story is that Vincent, who was only 38 at the time of her passing, was for all intents and purposes a very attractive and seemingly well-liked young woman. And yet somehow she went unnoticed from society for years and not even her friends, coworkers, or family members had been concerned about her whereabouts from the time she died to the time that she was discovered. I could go on and on about this film, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. But if you’re inclined to learn more, you can check it out yourself on Netflix.

Anyway, when the press about this film first began to circulate, I recall getting into an intense debate with a number of folks, who pitied Vincent. I mean she died…*gasp*…all by herself. No one – not a family member, not a loved one, not even a concerned nosy neighbor was there to hold and gently caress her hand as she slid off into the light. One of my sister-in-laws even told me that she got emotional upon reading about how her body was discovered and angrily blamed the family members and other people in her life for not being there. “How uncaring and selfish can you be to not check in on her from time to time? I mean to not even call her around the holidays? She must have had some sort of mental illness because being alone is not healthy. And if that was my sister I would force her to stay in contact with me,” my sister-in-law told me.

I get the profound sadness of it all. Nobody should have to die young. Likewise, nobody should have to feel alone if they don’t want to. However, I don’t blame her family and friends, and I especially don’t pity Vincent either. I think that she made a conscious decision to separate herself from people and I think the people in her life did their best to honor and respect her lifestyle choice. There are true introverts among us; people who actual enjoy their own company – at least more than they do the people in their lives. I know that may be hard for some folks like my sister-in-law to understand, especially since we live in a society – heck a world – which places high value on how successful you are at engaging others socially. Yet, recent research suggests that a-third to a half of all Americans are introverts. And more than likely, their penchant for privacy has less to do with any type of personality disorder like being shy or anti-social, but rather a desire for a less-stimulating environment.

Again, without giving too much of the film away, I will say that I got the impression that Vincent was not only an introvert, but also a free-spirit. She was not only likable, but her friends, ex-boyfriends and other acquaintances always regarded her as the life of the party. Yet most of her friends didn’t fret when she disappeared because she had a history of moving around from place to place and basically drifting in and out of people’s lives. In some respects, I have the same behavior patterns. Despite living literally two blocks away from my younger brother and his family, I might see or speak to them once a month. And even less frequent for the rest of my family. In fact, I haven’t done a holiday dinner in years and quite honestly, don’t even miss it. I hate telephones, so the only time I speak with my friends is when we meet up for an outing (excluding emergencies of course). And yet when I am around them, I can be extremely fun and a barrel full of laughs. As much as I love the people in my family, I also love privacy – to work; to think and basically let me become my sole priority. So when my family and friends don’t hear from me in a while, they think I’m off alone on one of my life adventures and they know that when I’m ready, I’ll come around, which makes me wonder what the heck was my sister-in-law talking about because she never calls me on holidays – not that I would answer the phone anyway.

One thing to learn from the story is that you can’t control the how and the whens of death. Whether she was holding her family members’ hands or dying alone, no one could go on that journey except Vincent. And while for many people in the world, the fear of being – if not dying – alone is what keeps them in bad relationships – whether they be with a significant other, a family member or even in your career, it would seem that Vincent didn’t think too much about those prospects despite whatever medical condition she had. And although she made some mistakes along the way (including one with an abusive boyfriend), she was too busy living life on her own terms. I am just speculating here, but I would like to think that Vincent would have been less concerned with being alone and more concerned about the prospect of dying around the wrong people. Besides, who cares how and when your body is found; you’re dead. It’s not like you are using it anymore.

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  • Elisa

    I think it’s strange that they keep saying she wasn’t found for three years. She died around Christmas time of 2003 (so almost 2004) and she was found in January of 2006. That’s two years.

    • ronniebouy

      Elisa, You miss the point. Let’s call it one year, is that less tragic or sad? She was separated from her family but why? Was her father an abuser and sisters turned against her due to accusations?
      I do not have a split personality. I have a loving wife. I can be the life of the party even though I don’t want to be, it’s a way to mask my incredible shyness and being introverted for the first half of my life. I have a lot of friends and some people actually seek me out for friendship..I give of myself freely but also find it painful draining of my energies. Sounds egotistical I know but I’m not. I painfully developed this personality trait later in life only to become successful in my career. A few years back I proved to myself what I always suspected. I could spend years totally alone. I spent several days in the wilderness by myself. A deserted island sounds like a nightmare to some, the only horror in that for me, is food. My uncle was, is, exactly the same.

  • I’m in agreement with the rest of you
    about being an introvert, and I was like this young lady at her age. Perhaps,
    had she lived to be my age (late 30’s) she would have NOT been so introverted.
    You tend to change your point of view as you get older. You grow and realize
    you need people, but yes, we introverts need our solitude—-But please let’s
    not close ourselves off from the world. It’s just not healthy. It can cause
    some problems with your health, and not just mental health.

    I read this story about a year ago
    and I cried for her. This does seem a bit unusual though. What about utilities,
    mail, the smell of death. It’s rather strange. But some wise young person did
    mention this: Whether you’re surrounded by people or alone when you go, that
    walk to wherever you’re going will be you, alone, by yourself.

  • Nicole

    Her entire story was sad! I remember watching the trailer a while back and though to myself “due to unforeseen circumstances, that could be anyone of us”, I immediately started thinking about people and old friends I haven’t spoke to in years.

    When I saw the movie–it left me feeling some type of way for days!! The fact that she had the opportunity to live this life, hang around celebrities ( she was acquainted with stevie wonder at one point..I think lol) and then just completely fall under the radar. It’s unfortunate that her siblings did not want to be part of the film, i think we would have learned a lot about her background. The film does hint that she may have been abused or such as a little girl ( I mean she even told people that she had to take time off of work because her father had died—when in fact he died about 2 years after her! spooky I know)

    This film tugs at the heartstrings

  • Hearing about this story chilled me to the bone. It stayed with me for days particularly due to the fact that she lived above the shopping centre that I used to go to around that time. It is really creepy. I forgot to watch have just reminded me but I do remember reading that they didn’t know what caused her death and put it down to natural causes. I find that suspect because i read that although they didnt find out much about her life she was documented to have stayed in a womens refuge. Her collegues say she also quit her job unexpectedly and assumed she just moved on to bigger and better things. Having stayed in a womens refuge myself one of the requirements was you cant be working so have to leave your job. I mean she went into this refuge then disappeared and was found dead three years later? I smell a rat. statistics show that a high percentage of batterd women are killed by their husband/partner after they have left the relationship. why hasnt anybody spoken to the ex boyfriend? I feel that due to the length of time that passed and the lack of pressure from any relatives the police simpy couldn’t be bothered to investigate her death thoroughly enough.

    • trinilady

      I believe one of her ex boyfriends indicated she suffered with asthma and ws not fond of using her inhaler.

  • AllyCat

    I just want to know how her electricity still on after 3 yrs of no payment.

    • MissRealuminatti

      Maybe she had an automated plan with her utilities. I am assuming her house was paid off. Very strange indeed.

      • trinilady

        She lived in a subsidized home for women/families who were victims of domestic violence

    • Trinilady

      Her electricity was still on because it was paid mostly through subsidies for people living in that type of facility.

  • gg

    Sad but not surprising for the kind of society we have become.

  • I am an introvert and enjoy my alone time but it sounds like you and this woman take it to the extremes. First of all its just plain rude and wrong not to check in with your people and let them know you’re okay. I could never ever put my mother and father through that as much as I don’t want to be around sometime I’ll let them know I’m doing okay and I just need some ME time. No man is an island and yes this story is sad it’s extremely sad because this woman was so far removed from society that no one noticed that she was gone for three years that’s just too sad the fact that she died alone is whatever you can’t really control that but the fact that it took someone so long to notice is a problem you must have really had your people thinking you didn’t want to be around them for them not to come to look for you for that long. My mother is entirely too nosy it could have never happened in my case lol

  • kierah

    I have not seen the movie, but I think it’s not the dying alone part that gets me. It’s dying and not being missed that saddens me. In this life, we like to think that we matter to someone. For 3 years, no one made the effort to find out what happened to her. Even if you thought she was off somewhere else, wouldn’t someone like to know where “somewhere” is?

    • Nicole

      I read somewhere that her sisters had moved back to the Caribbean after their mother died…and they hired a Private investigator to find her sister. So she WAS missed

      • Jes

        Right! and in the film they even said no one bothered to check on her because they thought with her personality she was off somewhere living an exciting and better life than they were

  • cocokitten

    Yea sure…being an introvert is great an stuff. wont knock u for how you want to socialize….but 3 years!? Mother, father, sister, brother? no one came to check? I’ll give you a month, 6 months, even a year but 3 years? Sure she died alone but that will happen but in 3 yrs, no one heard fr her an never thought to visit? That is sad beyond belief whether or not ur dead an ur body is of no use. Just plain sad an cause for disappointment.

    • guest5

      True..that’s more than just being an introvert to me. 3 years? It’s like she cut herself off from the and friends. My mom is about ready to call the SWAT team if i don’t check in on the regular and esp. me being a female. I guess this situation is possible but it is sad that no one noticed she was gone after 3 years!

  • Guest

    I saw this movie and I thought it was very sad, but honestly we still don’t know why she ended up all alone and dying without it being noticed. Her family chose not to participate in the film, so we never got their perspective of what they felt happened. From what is told, it seems likely she suffered from some form of mental illness. Still sad to see another human being’s life end like this. I hope her soul is at peace with God!!!

    • Charing Ball

      Hey Guest, Thanks for chiming in. This was the other part of the debate with my sis-in-law: Whether or not she was mentally ill. I said a definite NO! She had no history or even signs prior to her disappearance of someone with mental illness. Of course there is a chance that whatever illness didn’t reveal itself until late in life but I found her choices to be very deliberate. Plus, who were the Christmas gifts for?

      I hope some other folks, who have seen the film, chime in as well. ON a side note: this film reminds me of the old Unsolved Mysteries. That show used to give me nightmares as a child, LOL

      • Guest

        I thought the same thing about the Christmas gifts. If you’re out of touch with everyone, who are you buying gifts for? That was one of several reasons, I thought she may have been experiencing some type of mental illness at that time in her life. I did happen to run across an article online that said her family did not participate in the making of the film because they are still trying to come to terms with her loss and that they had been looking for her for many years, even hiring a private detective to locate her. Wished it had turned out different!!!

  • Tami

    Oh my gosh! I have to see this movie. This article is wonderfully written & Ms. Vincent sounds like me. I guess I would be between the two extremes, most times introverted & lots of the time extroverted because i am forced to be in social situations. But I just love, love being alone. I love reading books, writing. I have a man in my life who keeps me company but otherwise I have no problem with my oneness. I have family but I don’t attend a lot of family outings so I am considered an outcast. I rarely like to talk on the phone & prefer texting. There are a lot of introverts in the world & there is nothing wrong with it. Also nothing wrong with dying alone either. Either way, you are taking the journey to the hereafter by yourself.

    • Lesa

      I feel the same way. I enjoy being alone and when I do not I go out and socialize but find that I prefer my own company to others in most cases. I also detest the phone! I’m going to watch the movie later on this week. You can rent it off of iTunes also! I just did plus you have 30 days to view it.

    • tigger42

      WOW! I’m a lot like you Tami. I’m a mix of introverted and extroverted as well. I’m not shy but like small groups of people. I have 3 or 4 close friends but I’m not a person who ALWAYS like to be around my friends. I’m close with my family but I mostly see my mother on the regular as most of my family live in other states. I’m the youngest of 2 but my brother is 20+ years older than me so although I’m not an only child i grew up like an only child and not raised around my cousins. I wish i did grow up with relatives b/c i think they are more likely your true friends anyway.

      I get along great with people and they enjoy my conversation etc. but I never belonged to any type of group(jocks, popular kids, artsy kids, nerd kids, girly girls) when it came to high school or college as i liked having conversations with everyone but yet I would get left out a lot. lol. IMO i would think someone that gets along with everyone wouldn’t get left out on things but i guess when you’re more clearly identified with a group and apart of it a lot it’s not likely that you’ll get left out. IDK. Not that family and some friends are not there but I guess when you are not very close with someone it is expected that they may not follow through. Just think i don’t need to talk and speak with someone everyday just to show I’m a great friend.

      I don’t mind being alone or doing things alone but I must adimit that it would not be my ideal choice most of the time. I desire to travel more and desire to be married and have kids but will not settle just to have someone in my life. I’m very close with my mother and she is only person i can say with 100% that i know i can rely on her for anything and to do what she says she will do. But she is in her late 60s and i often think about what it would be like when she leaves this world. I know that my family would be there for encouragement and phone calls but there would be no one near on a regular basis for comfort. I use to fell sorry for myself but have learned to appreciate those that are around me more and just continue to be me.

    • You make a very good last point. At the end of the day we came into this world alone and we will depart from it ALONE!