Jan 11, 2008

It Will Become Quite Common To Die Alone & Unnoticed

ST Jan 10, 2008
Man's death goes unnoticed for a year in Sydney

SYDNEY - AN ELDERLY pensioner lay dead in his apartment in Australia's largest city for a year before anyone noticed, officials and news reports said on Thursday.

The body of Jorge Chambe, 64, was found on Tuesday in his single bedroom, government-owned flat in the Sydney suburb of Yagoona when police and firefighters broke in, after concerns about his welfare were finally raised.

Decomposition of the body was advanced and bank records indicated Chambe died about a year earlier, officials said.

'It's amazing,' Detective-Inspector Ian Prye told reporters. 'This guy lives in the suburbs and he dies and no one notices for a year.'

The circumstances of Chambe's death triggered calls for a national strategy to better check on elderly people living alone, and worry that Australians were losing their sense of community.

'How can it happen that a person can die in such a lonely way and no one know?' New South Wales state Housing Minister Matt Brown told the Macquarie Radio network on Thursday.

In news reports, neighbors at the apartment block described Chambe as a quiet man who was friendly but who kept mostly to himself. He had received federal government welfare payments and his rent was paid automatically by direct debit from his bank account.

His mailbox had filled to overflowing, but no one had noticed a smell or other clues that he had died, the reports said. A worried neighbour finally called housing officials on Monday, and authorities broke in when Chambe did not respond.

The above event may seem sad and shocking. However as the years go, we may safely expect such incidents to become increasingly common in developed countries with an aging population. Oh yes, that includes Singapore.

This is the simple consequence of having smaller families, or not having children. The older you grow, the likelier it becomes that you have no relatives at all. You just outlive those who used to be around. This isn’t that difficult, because there weren’t many of them to begin with.

In the 1960s, the average 30-something adult would have, say, one spouse, four children, six siblings, eighteen cousins and too many nephews, nieces and in-laws to easily count.

In 2008, the average 30-something adult would have, say, one or no spouse; one, two or no children; and maybe one or two siblings, each likely to have one, two or no children.

So nowadays, the probability of outliving all your relatives (or all relatives who care about you) is much higher.

During the working years, loneliness is not an issue because working life itself provides a human community comprising bosses, peers, subordinates, clients etc.

Senior citizens, while healthy, can also maintain a social network. They move around on their own, pursue their interests and meet other people (mahjong kaki; qigong group; community club etc).

But over the years, the individual gradually grows older and weaker, and becomes less and less able to participate. He therefore slowly withdraws himself from society. Eventually, he becomes so disconnected from other human beings that he could die (as Jorge Chambe did), and for a whole year, no one would even notice.

To me, Jorge’s story is sad not because he died and his death went unnoticed for a year. The sad part is really more how he must have lived, in the years before he died.


mr.udders said...

Lee Kuan Yew leads the way!

Anonymous said...

As I recall in my childhood days, as I walk along the corridor of my HDB block to head back home, almost all the windows and doors are open. I would look into each unit as I walked pass, and would greet each aunty and uncle who were at home. Strangely, about 30 years later, all the windows are shut and the doors are closed, and the neighbours act as strangers at the lobbys and in the lifts. Some would even stare at me as if I were weird, if I took some initiative to greet them!

Sometimes are wonder, what happened in these 30 years? As Singapore gets more crowded, people are moving further apart. It's sad, but it's true. Hopefully, the next time we start to wonder what happened to our neighbour next door would not be because of stench...

Anonymous said...

That's why Singaporeans must work till they die .... preferably while typing away at the office computer.

In that way, your colleagues will know you have died and HR can immediately schedule a recruitment interview for a replacement.

Makes sense.

Anonymous said...

I am sure there are already old people in Singapore living the way Jorge did before he passed away. The first generation of china immigrants with no family here.

Anonymous said...

In time to come, modern technology like msn and social utility networks like facebook may help earlier detection of death in such cases.

celestialbaby said...

Suicidal rate will continue to go up. Good to die this way, at least u get the most attention the minute u plunge from a high-rise

Anonymous said...

So near yet so far! The divide and rule is very effective. Unfortunately, between rulers and the ruled, the distance seems without horizon.

Cold, cold and frightening! From saintmoron.

Anonymous said...

In future Singapore say in 2030, 2040 or after, due to the no replacement birth rate trend, those local born will become lonely old folks waiting for the final moment and slowly disappear altogether. The young and active will be those foreigners, PRs, PRs turn citizens and maybe even the Prime minister and gahmen come from this group. But with this type of scenario, will there even be a Singapore then?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a similiar case in Singapore not too long ago, where the public health authorities found a skeleton in the loo of a long-abandoned house, too decomposed to determine if it was all that was left of one of the elderly sisters who had been known to live there??

Anonymous said...

But what if that's what Jorge wanted? To live a quiet and peaceful life all by himself till he has to *submit his IC*? I find it hard to believe that Jorge didn't know about (or least mulled over) this possibility at all. Don't get me wrong, it's sad to have someone passed away but I can't possibly think of a more peaceful way to go...

People has the right to live the way they want and who are we to say they should change, just because we *thought* we know what's best? Of course, if that person is clearly unhappy, then we should advise him/her. But if he/she is happy to live that kind of life and doesn't bother people around him/her (if Jorge was unhappy, I'm sure someone would know), I don't see nothing wrong there.

Mr Wang Says So said...

You are right that it is possible that Jorge may have been happy to live (and die) this way. Or he may have been indifferent.

However, in general, I think that most people would not want to live (and die) this way ...


Yes there was a similar case in Singapore - I remember that.


Anon January 11, 2008 11:16 PM:

Funny thing is that those early immigrants, if little else, had each other's company and there was a strong sense of community among them.

That strong sense of community led to the formation of the Chinese clan associations, and if you look at history, even to the formation of Chinese secret societies, whereby these people made pacts to be blood brothers forever etc etc.

Cat said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
the_davis said...

Would this be the case of moving from a collectivism culture to one that is more individualistic in nature?

Mercia said...

Well, it won't be as bad with a larger ageing population. Assuming that people who don't want to be alone actually want to have brighter social lives, we just need a network of services and activities clubs springing up.

My parents are taking Salsa classes togeher, my father plays badminton at the CC. As time goes by and the ageing population numbers reaches critical mass, there should be enough infrastructure to support their retirement life.

Well, assuming that our gahmen planners are anticipating this. If the government can direct such support towards providing post-retirement lifestyle choices for the elderly, then we've got to hope that old people warm to the culture of living out their post-retirementhood the way their kids would like them to.

瀅錦 said...

With mahjong around, elderly shoudn't be that lonely since they have 3 other kakis to talk to while playing the game :)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang

"To me, Jorge’s story is sad not because he died and his death went unnoticed for a year. The sad part is really more how he must have lived, in the years before he died."

You might have an assumption that since he used to live alone, he might have lived quite miserably alone.

Those with family might not be in better case and it's very possilbe that Jorge Chambe has lived a great life during his last few years.

Mr. Wang, have you ever thought, when a person is going to die what could be the most difficult thing?

It's probably to leave his/her family.

Most people would probably not want to die alone ONLY to realize that the saddest thing of all is that he/she HAS to leave their surronding people and whatever wealth he/she has accumulated.


Mr Wang Says So said...

Those who've mentioned mahjong, badminton, salsa etc etc

need to understand that many old people will reach a time any more when badminton, salsa, and even mahjong are no longer possible.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang is obviously more aware and realistic about old folks' problems.

Many elderlies have difficulties in basic daily chores and personal hygiene upkeeps. When one goes beyond seventy in age, mobility and mental capacities tends to decline rapidly.

Some lonely aged may not even be able to leave their homes to buy themselves meals.

Being old and weak, most locked and secured their homes to prevent drug addicts and other desperados. So, when sudden medical/health complications arises, death may follow without others knowing.

On the other hand, we may have people who grow older and get louder each day. Few highly privileged are paid million SIN Dollars to make noise and ironically, some are paid same amount just to show their presences or just to present themselves for show. Example: directors, chairmen, presidents and whatever, said saintmoron.

Anonymous said...

There's really nothing like getting a girlfriend or two in your senior years. At least three persons will know you're still around. Your wife, girlfriend number one and two. And the girlfriends should be young say no more than 30 so you can still always feel "young" at heart with all the sexual activities required to keep all of them happy! Cheers!

Jon said...

When society 'digit'ises people, stream these digits based on economic value, celebrate wealth over life, these things are bound to happen. Materialism has always been tempered by ideals and aspersions of what is right or wrong.

It will be quite common to Die Alone and Unnoticed (DAU) - IF you are poor and destitute (aka economically irrelevant).

DAU happens all over the world, but when DAU becomes 'quite common', it probably is a sign of impending extinction.

There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt.
Niccolo Machiavelli

Mr Wang Says So said...

Let me give you a brief description of my grandmother-in-law, in the last few years before she died.

Her eyesight was very poor. She could not read or watch TV for too long. She used to be able to walk around slowly, but after a fall, she became confined to a wheelchair. After that, she needed help, to move from the wheelchair to the toilet bowl. She had arthritis and basically she was in some pain all day long. Later it became difficult for her to even use utensils properly. For example, a porcelain rice bowl would be too heavy for her, and she would drop and break it. Later she switched to plastic utensils - these are lighter and unbreakable.

She was lucky in the sense that she had plenty of family support. The family was wealthy so they could easily afford to employ three maids - one did housework only; one looked after the old lady only; and the third helped the other two maids. My auntie herself was also an extremely dedicated caregiver, providing company and emotional support and also constantly ferrying the old woman around to see all the doctors. The family owned and ran their own business, so no one had any prolems with issues like not having enough annual leave, to take time off to look after the old woman.

Now, imagine this old woman's life, if she had no daughter, no son-in-law, no grandchildren, no maids living with her.

Yes, it would be quite easy to die alone and unnoticed.

Anonymous said...

It is not only the old that could die alone at home, there are cases of young people who stay on their own and die due to work stress alone in their home. At least I know of such cases in my work place.

As for me, in my 40s, single and staying on my own, I get my colleague to call if I did not turn up for work .. just in case.

My concern is when I reach 60 or 70 who going to call me. The solution could be move to a nursing home.

Anonymous said...

It would be best for euthanasia to be legalised. Allow a dignified death.

big foot in my mouth said...

Now, imagine this old woman's life, if she had no daughter, no son-in-law, no grandchildren, no maids living with her.

Now, imagine her with sons and daugthers who need to work to keep 3 regular meals and pay HDB, untilities despite being after retirement age (er what retirement), and grandchildren who need to attend after school activities so as to be able to keep up with school work, project work and be "creative".

Anonymous said...

In 2008, the average 30-something adult would have, say, one or no spouse; one, two or no children; and maybe one or two siblings, each likely to have one, two or no children.


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Anonymous said...

perhaps the idea of a retirement village might take off because of this reason..watch out for the next piece of news, i'll bet it'd be about this.

after all, the idea's been cooking on low fire for some time now..

and you know how news are so well 'choreographed' in our country

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang said

"Now, imagine this old woman's life, if she had no daughter, no son-in-law, no grandchildren, no maids living with her"

My comment:
- humans always think of their ownselves
- humans are generally coward

I think, yes dying alone is not easy, but those who have chosen that path are the most courageous and unselfish souls...