Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The loner

In the house behind ours lived a middle-aged man called, shall we say, Derek. He was a confirmed loner who seldom ventured on to the streets. In the ten months we've lived here I only saw him two or three times.

What information I have about him comes from another neighbour and is pretty sparse. It seems he was a retired civil servant with no other interests apart from drinking and watching TV. He wasn't very healthy and several times I saw an ambulance outside.

His parents and his wife had all died and he had no other living relatives except a distant uncle. He appeared to have no friends, and not much contact with his other neighbours. The social services had been in touch with him but whatever help they gave him clearly didn't go far enough.

One evening he rang our doorbell and asked for advice about his TV, which wasn't getting a proper picture. I gave him what tips I could and off he went again.

In hindsight I thought maybe I should have invited him in for a chat, but his rather reserved manner deterred me from doing so.

A couple of weeks ago a policewoman appeared at the door and told me Derek had been found dead. He had probably been dead several days and she wondered when I had last seen him alive. I could only say it was some time ago.

It's very tragic when someone becomes that isolated and cuts himself off so methodically. Something in his personality, some chronic lack of confidence, always prevented him reaching out to others. And in every street there's probably someone similar, crying out for human affection but unable to reach it.

24 comments:

RT News said...

On the one hand, it is very sad indeed. On the other, everyone makes his own choice.

Nick said...

RT - That's true. But then again, your choices may be skewed by the way you've been brought up and your innate personality, and that can be hard to change.

Baino said...

God I'd be wracked with guilt for not being more friendly. It happens such a lot these days, we live so close yet have nothing to do with our neighbours. Mine moved out some time ago as their house was bought by the Education Department for a future school and I only realised when nobody cut the grass for a few weeks.

Nick said...

Baino - I do feel a bit guilty, but we haven't lived here for long compared with his other neighbours who must have known him for many years. They don't seem to have had much contact with him either. The social services had also been in touch but clearly couldn't give him the help he needed. A sad business.

Megan said...

It's hard to get past a person's reserve, if they don't give you any opening. Maybe he was wanting someone to try? Maybe he was reveling in being alone. And now we'll never know.

Brighid said...

I always feel like I have to reach out and try. Sometimes it works, sonetimes it doesn't.

Nick said...

Megan - Yes, I should have been more forthcoming. I should at least have invited him in and tried to get to know him a bit. He certainly didn't look as though he relished being alone.

Brighid - You're right. I was being too reserved myself.

kylie said...

hmmm
so next time you have an opportunity to reach out will you?
and will you tell us about it?

Nick said...

Kylie - Oooh you're putting me on the spot there! Quite right too. I will - and I shall tell you about it.

Rummuser said...

Not being like Derek, I do not understand the reclusive mentality. We have a very friendly neighbourhood and I doubt that anyone around here will have to live like that or die like that too. I don't think that any guilt is called for Nick. He made his bed and he slept and died
on it. May be he even wanted it that way.

Nick said...

Ramana - I think the Indian attitude is very different from the British one of leaving people to live their own life, even if it's a miserable one. Yes, he made his own life, but as I say his upbringing and character may have reduced his options.

tattytiara said...

It is sad that the more automated society becomes, the easier it is for people to slip into unhealthy levels of isolation. We forget that we are social creatures, and that without social interaction we simply don't thrive.

Nick said...

Tattytiara - Yes, I guess automation is partly to blame, though it still only affects a tiny part of our lives. Our everyday needs still involve a lot of human contact, and that's what he clearly had problems with.

Grannymar said...

Nick - I live in an area with 20 bungalows, not a million miles from you. Last September when learning to walk on crutches Several of the neighbours stopped me to know what had happened. Most I have not seen since! My next door neighbour actually crossed the road, called his wife over and they stood whispering with their backs to me as I struggled up the hill on the crutches, once passed, they crossed over and continued on their way!

These same neighbours are not behind the door in asking me for help when they are in trouble!

Kate said...

My uncle was like that in his latter years - so outgoing and funfilled when I was young and also when my kids were young - he became a hermit and refused to go out - was sometimes scared to go out but wouldn't say why. We had a telephone put in but he wouldn't answer it. The police had to break in when his rent hadn't been paid and I had to go and sort it all out - very sad business indeed but it was his choice.

Ursula said...

Nick, you are right that the British - whilst good at twitching curtains - are most certainly a little backward in coming forward.

Being the little angle that I am I have no compunction at knocking on someone's door, say, when - in passing - I hear a child, a woman or a man screaming in distress. It doesn't make you friends but at least you might have put a fullstop to a situation escalating that moment. As to that gentleman you mentioned: His knocking at your door and asking for advice was clearly a veiled attempt of trying to make contact. That he died lonely, unnoticed, is not your fault. However, I sometimes wish people would be more attentive to those next to them.

Says she sitting at one of her computers writing a comment to someone I have never met. Strange world we live in, don't you think?

U

Nick said...

Grannymar - That figures. So many people are curious when something out of the ordinary happens, but then they just retreat back into their domestic shells.

Kate - That's very sad too. Odd how he changed from someone so extrovert to someone who was scared of life. Did something traumatic happen to him along the way?

Ursula - Good for you caring enough to see what the screaming's all about. No, Derek's problem was everyone's responsibility, not just mine, but I was wrong not to invite him in for a chat.

I've met very few of my blogmates in the flesh, but some of them I've visited for three years so I know more about them than personal friends! My photo btw is on my very first post.

Kate said...

Not to my knowledge Nick - he was my Mum's baby brother and was called up to the army for WW2 - when he came home there were no jobs and I think things started there - he always lived alone, never married - it was just really sad - and yet when I was emptying his flat there were drawers full of jokes!!!

Nick said...

Kate - Something must have happened to bring on disillusion or despondency, but whatever it was, he clearly kept it to himself.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

That's such a sad story. Do you know if it was a suicide or natural causes?

Nick said...

Heart - A neighbour told me "he drank himself to death", so it could be a mixture of both.

Liz said...

Oh that is sad. But it - I was going to say it was his choice but maybe it became the only choice. He had passed the stage of being able to choose, maybe because life had happened to him and he hadn't been able to cope.

Nick said...

Liz - That may very well be the best explanation, life had happened to him and he couldn't cope. Some essential survival skill had been frozen.

e said...

Perhaps he was grieving some of the previous losses you mentioned or maybe people left and it was just too much to try and make new friends...

Sometimes human beings resign themselves...