Monday, August 14, 2017

Death of a neighbor

My next-door neighbor, Carolann, was found dead in her home on the 5th of August, when the police, having been requested to do a wellbeing check, broke down her door. They were in her home for quite a while, so we hoped she was simply going to be taken to the hospital again. But no. When the police finally emerged, they informed the small group that had gathered that Carolann had died.

While there was no wailing or gnashing of teeth, we were all sorry to hear this news. We had all had dealings with Carolann's eccentricities over the years, and many of these occasions had me on my last nerve. Recently we let her know that we wanted to remove a dying tree on the edge of our property, to make installing a fence a bit easier. In the end we installed the fence around the tree, since Carolann would not permit our tree removal folks to set foot on her property, and declared that if any branches fell on her bushes, there would be trouble.

In retrospect, these are small matters, and all derived from Carolann's untreated mental illness, which seemed to have started with extreme hoarding, progressing to a paranoid refusal to answer the phone or open the front door.  Carolann had a physical disability, too, which she said prevented her from coming outside. She had been a great gardener, so turning over all her gardening to others must have cut her to the quick.

Her lawn and garden were maintained for a low fee by an old friend, but the rest of the house featured peeling paint and a tarp on one corner of the roof, which she could not afford to have fixed. I understand the inside of the house was stuffed full of whatever people hoard. No doubt some vermin had also found a home there as well.

After the discovery of the body, a lieutenant showed up to direct the removal. When another neighbor asked if he knew the cause of death, the lieutenant replied, "Failure to thrive." This is a term I have heard applied only to elderly people in nursing homes. Carolann was only a year older than I am. I knew her church was delivering regular bags of groceries, but the lieutenant remarked that these were all hoarded inside the front door. He found loaves of bread from 2013. Carolann hoarded the food instead of eating it, and essentially starved to death amid the bounty.

Mental illness can be lethal. In suburban communities like mine, it typically is treated quietly by professionals, and usually does not become obvious. But in Carolann's case, the lieutenant claimed, no legal intervention was possible. Carolann was neither overtly suicidal, nor a threat to others. She refused all the social services to which she was entitled. Help could not be forced on her.

Still, the little voice in the back of my mind says, Still, there must have been something you could have done.

No comments: