It was the evening after the Danish parliamentary elections 2019. The so-called “red-block” parties, with center left politics, had won the majority seats. One of their election campaign-promises is to improve the life of old persons, especially in terms of facilitating and encouraging to continue to live in their own homes, and enhancing their social contacts with family, friends and care-givers. Social-gerontologists have told us that independent home-living and positive social contacts are extremely important conditions for living a good life in old age.
And then, on that post-election evening, we became the observers of a series of events unfolding right in front of our eyes, which brought us face to face with the reality and practice of those conditions.
We, four in the family, were at the dinner table on that light-full sunny evening in June: myself, my partner, my son and his wife. My little granddaughter, of almost 3, had already gone to bed. I was sitting with my back towards our neighboring housing block of 7-storey apartments. One of the bedrooms of each apartment, their kitchens and common staircase windows to the North-East side of the building face our sitting-room side on the South-West.
Abruptly, my daughter-in-law pointed out at a just arrived police car. We all had a cursory look at that but continued with our dinner and conversation. Another two minutes passed and one more police car arrived quietly. That was pretty unusual in this residential area near the university campus. Some domestic problem, some theft, something minor we presumed.
And then came an ambulance – very quietly and non-intrusively. That is when all four of us started watching, waiting, talking and guessing about what could be going on.
We also saw two men looking at the police cars through a glass window of their kitchen of the apartment on the right side of the fourth floor. Another ten, fifteen or more minutes passed and the ambulance drove away without taking anybody along. Then the two policemen appeared with a cute little white poodle dog held on a leash. The dog seemed to be in a rush to run towards the bushes where it started to pee. That is when it struck us that the things were more serious than they appeared.
The situation became even more dramatic when a mortuary ambulance, which is used to carry dead bodies, appeared soon after the normal ambulance had left. Now the windows of the common staircase, and those of the bedroom and the kitchen of the left-side apartment on the fourth floor were fully opened to let the wind go through and through.
We were watching all this with confusion and curiosity. We were now sure that someone has died in that apartment. There must be some strong stinking smell of the decomposing corpse that required opening of the windows. The dog must be that of the person who was now dead. Perhaps it was the incessant barking or crying of the dog that had alerted the neighbors who then may have called the police.
After another half-an-hour or so, the police cars with the dog, and the mortuary van, possibly with somebody in it, drove away. It took about 90 minutes for all this to happen. We did not see anybody talking with the police or anybody else arriving at the scene except a lock-smith van that came soon after, perhaps to change the locks.
The sadness of the whole situation was heavy on us. Who was the person who had died in this apartment? How many days ago this happened? Did the person die suddenly and quickly, or was there a fall or a collapse first, unable to approach or contact anybody for help, waiting for the care giver to come on a once-every-two-weeks schedule on the appointed time? For how long the dog had been crying before anybody heard it? Who was the one lying dead in that apartment and since when? A lonely young person, a man, a woman, an old person – who, who, who – we could not know.
I have been living in this area for almost 16 years now. I live on my own. My partner also lives on her own in a house about seven kilometers away. My son lives with his wife and a daughter in another town about 200 kilometers away. In these housing blocks, I can see people of all ages, but mostly young students choosing to live near the university, and moving on after a couple of years.
There are a few people of my age of 60+ as well, who are now in their progressive old age. We have little or no social interaction on a daily basis. If we happen to pass by each other in the surrounding area, we may or may not exchange a nod of recognition. I had no idea who this, now dead, person was on the fourth floor of the opposite block.
The next morning someone from the neighboring block had put a query on the FaceBook page of this housing society that when she had returned home around midnight she had noticed blood spots going up to the fourth floor. The mystery had deepened further. The comments made by a few people on that page did not give any further information. I also wrote down what we had seen the previous evening. Some people were guessing about a lady with a dog. I tried to check the twitter message by the local police about a possible crime situation, but there was none. The noticing of the blood spots also did not make any sense, because the police had not cordoned off the area as a crime scene.
There were no further comments on FB until a couple of hours later when someone wrote that the person who lived in that apartment was an old lady, Else, and that her family has been informed. A couple of days later, another message on FB put by one of the officials of the housing society was an open invitation, saying that it was on behalf of the family of Else, that all were welcome for the funeral ceremony being held in a church nearby the following week.
Else – the lady with a dog. She must have been “living in old age” for quite some time now. I may have seen her or I may not have. I may have even exchanged with her a nod or two during all these years, I don’t remember. When did she become invisible to me and to others? When did anyone last saw her alive? When do we become invisible while living in old age? Or at any age?
I promise myself that I will try to “see” others, and hope that they will also see me.