Owen hated his life. He was fifty-three years old, overweight, separated from his wife Sally, and estranged from his kids. He worked in an office at the grocery store one mile away. He had shared a condo with his Uncle Andy for five years. His life was work, live with Uncle Andy, bowl Tuesday nights, and watch TV.
In the early years of living with Uncle Andy, it was a good deal for both of them. Owen paid no rent. In exchange, he helped Andy, who was in his 80s, with shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. Andy was Owen’s favorite uncle: a bachelor, retired electrician, loved to fish and was great company. They both were loners and got along fine.
The Tuesday after Memorial Day, a hot one that year, Owen was more or less on autopilot as he trudged upstairs to Andy’s apartment after work to look in on him. Owen never imagined that Andy would go downhill so fast, but in the last two months, he refused to use his hearing aid, became incontinent, and needed help getting out of a chair. He refused to see a doctor, of course. His reason: “They can’t fix old.” For the last two days, Andy has been in bed with a bad cold.
Opening the door to the apartment, Owen called out his usual: “Uncle Andy, I’m home! Are you?” He waited for the expected response, “It’s about time you showed us, dumbbell.” Silence. Owen called again. All he heard was the air conditioner grinding away. He walked down the hallway to Uncle Andy’s bedroom. The door was closed. Owen knocked. “Uncle Andy, are you OK?” No answer. Owen opened the door and peeked in, not wanting to wake him if he was asleep. He quietly walked into the room and saw Andy in his single bed, looking at the ceiling. Owen asked, “Are you feeling better?” No response. Owen stepped closer and touched his hand. It was cold. Andy was dead. Owen straightened the blue plaid bedspread over Andy, covered him up to his shoulders, backed out of the room, and quietly closed the door.
Now what to do? This was bowling night. He heard Joe, his co-worker and bowling buddy, in the parking lot hitting his horn. Owen grabbed his bowling gear and raced down the stairs to Joe’s car. Maybe getting out of the house would help “it” come to him what he should do about Andy.
Owen returned home at midnight. He was exhausted. He still hadn’t figured out what to do. If he called anyone right now, there would be a big commotion and lots of strangers with questions that he wasn’t sure he could answer. He decided to wait until morning. By Friday, Owen was still waiting for a flash of insight as to what he should do. He had no clue. The weekend came and went. Now it was getting too late to call someone, because they might think there was something wrong and wonder why he hadn’t called right away. Owen decided to just leave Andy’s bedroom door closed.
Owen never opened the bedroom door again. The neighbors noticed a horrible smell during that first summer coming from Andy’s condo. Owen told them he had used mouse poison, and a mouse must have died in the wall. Sally called Owen every few months and always asked to speak with Andy. Owen made excuses each time as to why Andy could not come to the phone. Owen ignored Andy’s mail except for utility and tax bills, which he paid. He tossed the rest of the mail, including regular dividend checks, into a box unanswered.
One spring, four years after Andy died, Owen came down with the flu that was going around work. He went home sick on Friday and did not show up to work on Monday or Tuesday. Co-worker Jo called, but all he got was the answering machine. Wednesday, Joe went to Owen’s condo at lunch time. No one answered the door. He counted four newspapers on the doormat. Back at work, Joe asked Grace, the office manager to call Owen’s emergency contact person.
That person was Sally, Owen’s estranged wife. Grace called her. Sally hadn’t talked with Owen since Christmas. She drove over to the condo that evening, knocked on the door, and after a few minutes, used the spare key Owen had given her years ago. She found Owen on the couch, so sick he was unable to get up. The place was a mess with dirty dishes on the living room floor and every surface in the kitchen. The one neat area in the condo was a living room corner table covered with a box full of unopened letters, each addressed to Andy. Sally called 911 for an ambulance to take Owen to the hospital. When it arrived, one of the EMTs went looking through the condo for prescription bottles to see what Owen might be taking. The EMT opened Andy’s bedroom door.
Owen recovered from the flu and was charged with Andy’s murder. The murder charge was later dismissed, but while the criminal charge was pending, he was fired from his job at the grocery store.
- Stay connected with older loved ones through regular phone calls, visits and emails.
- When someone dies at home but not in the presence of a medical-care provider, call the county coroner. Immediately!
- Create a “safety net” for a senior who lives alone. One simple step is a daily call, email, or text between the senior and the friend. If the contact is missed, the friend can follow up with a visit or enlist a neighbor of the senior to find out why.
Susan M. Graham just published a book entitled “Can Lawyers Always Save the Day for Seniors? – True Retirement Stories”. She wrote this to share stories of common problems for elders that can be avoided or minimized if they just took time to plan and seek help.
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