Can loneliness be fatal? Two recent stories make you wonder.
Eighteen months after Hurricane Rita struck the Texas coast, the mummified corpse of 51-year-old recluse Larry Euglon was discovered in his own bed. Although his house was not badly damaged in the storm, he died of no apparent cause save weight loss likely due to starvation or dehydration.
No one missed him. Neighbors say they assumed he had evacuated with the rest of them. No one bothered to check.
The body was discovered only after reclamation on homes in the area had nearly finished. Since Euglon’s house wasn’t destroyed, no one looked into it until the unsightliness of the yard frustrated neighbors. When unpaid taxes led toward foreclosure, a prospective buyer wandered through the house until he reached the bedroom and pulled back the sheets to find the corpse. Nice.
Euglon’s aunt said: “Knowing him, he thought he could ride the storm out. Now what did he die from? Could it have been fright? Could it have been a heart attack? With 120 mph winds tearing up your house, who knows? Only God knows.”
Well, only God knows, but Euglon’s self-imposed isolation surely brought it to pass, coupled by the unconcern of family and neighbors who failed to make sure he was OK.
From the animal kingdom comes another sad tale. Yan Yan, a celebrated panda, died unceremoniously and suddenly at the Berlin Zoo. She had been a star attraction until recently when “Cute Knut,” the new polar bear, had taken center stage. Thousands of tourists came to see Knut. Yan Yan was lost in the shuffle.
“Our keepers were stunned,” said a zoo spokesman. “The sad thing is that because of the excitement around Knut, she died alone, and no one immediately noticed that she had passed away.”
Any minister will tell you how heart wrenching it is to do a funeral for someone nobody seemed to know or care about. We all die alone in one sense, but nobody should die lonely, devoid of a caring community.
The fault may lie more on the side of the lonely one that isolates himself or on the side of the community that neglects. But the cure lies in caring either way, and in caring both ways.
Hemingway wrote: “Life breaks everyone. Some just get well in the broken places.”
Caring is the only sure cure for broken heartedness.