Owen hated his life. The Tuesday after Memorial Day, he trudged up metal stairs in the unseasonably hot late afternoon. He was on autopilot walking toward the second level condo he shared with his Uncle Andy for the last five years. He was 53, overweight, separated from his wife, Sally, estranged from his kids and worked in an office at a grocery store one mile away. Owen’s life was work, living with Uncle Andy, bowling Thursday nights and watching TV.
At the start, living with his Uncle 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 great company. Both Andy and Owen were loners, so they got along fine.
Owen never imagined Andy would go downhill so fast, but in the last two months Andy refused to use his hearing aid, became incontinent and needed help getting out of a chair. Of course he refused to see a doctor. 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 condo, Owen called out his usual: “Uncle Andy I’m home, are you?” He waited for Andy’s pat response “It’s about time you showed up dumbbell.” Silence. That was odd. Owen repeated his call. All he could hear was the air conditioner grinding away. He walked down the stained and faded orange shag hallway carpet to Uncle Andy’s room. The door was closed. Owen knocked. “Uncle Andy are you ok?” No answer. Owen opened the door a crack, to peek in, not wanting to wake Andy if he was sleeping. Owen quietly walked into the room and saw Uncle Andy in his single bed, looking at the ceiling. Owen asked “Are you feeling better?” No response. Owen took two steps to Andy’s bedside, touched his hand. It was cold. Andy was dead. Owen straightened the blue plaid bed spread over Andy, pulling it up to his shoulders and backed out, quietly closing the bedroom door.
Now what? It was Thursday. Owen should leave in a few minutes if he was going to be picked up on time for his bowling league. Joe, a co-worker and bowling buddy was in the parking lot hitting his horn. Owen changed his clothes, grabbed his bowling stuff and raced down the stairs to his car. Maybe being out of the house “it” would 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… lots of strangers with questions that he wasn’t sure he could answer. He decided to wait until the morning. On Friday morning, Owen was still waiting for a “flash of insight” as to what he should do about Andy. 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 that he did not call right away. Owen decided to just leave Andy’s bedroom door closed.
Years went by with Andy in the bedroom. Owen never opened the bedroom door again. The neighbors noticed a horrible smell over the 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 why Andy could not come to the phone. Owen ignored the mail sent to Andy except the utility and tax bills, which he paid. The rest of the mail was tossed in a box unanswered including his health insurance.
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 for work on Monday and Tuesday. Joe, a co-worker and bowling buddy called, but the call went to the answering machine. Joe then went to Owen’s condo at lunchtime on Tuesday. No one answered the door. Four newspapers were on the doormat. When he returned to work, Joe asked Grace, the personnel office manager, who was Owen’s emergency contact person. Sally, his estranged wife was listed, so Grace called her. Sally had not 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 filled with letters. Every letter was unopened and addressed to Andy. Sally called 911 for an ambulance to take Owen to the hospital. When they 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 was charged with Andy’s murder.
What could have been done differently?
• Owen could have hired someone to help with Andy’s care.
• Sally could have visited Andy and Owen at least a few times a year.
• The neighbors could have asked about Andy and if visits were blocked, they could have asked for a “Wellness Check” from the police department.
• The health insurance company could have followed up with their contact information when a policy lapses.
• Owen could have called the coroner when he found that Andy had died.
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