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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