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The Contemporary Mausoleum
My elderly neighbours committed suicide.
The gardener had arrived to mow the lawns; he didn't come to the door to greet her like he always did. He always paid her in cash. Something smelt bad. Really bad. Enough to make her ring the Police.
When I arrived home the evening of the discovery, there were Police cars everywhere. Police officers were dressed in forensics wear; full body suits, booties, masks- the works. The property was taped off. Flood lights were fixed on the open garage door. Police were entering and exiting the garage bringing out filled plastic bags to a waiting van.
When my young daughter and I stepped out from our car, though our home is situated across the road four houses away- the stench hit us like a tonne of bricks. That putrid, inexplicable smell of death. It didn't help that we were in the midst of a heat wave.
Natural curiosity ensued. Neighbours gathered together in the street trying to decipher what had occurred and why. One neighbour had spoken with the Police. He and his wife knew the couple. The elderly husband apparently was terminally ill. His condition had, in recent months worsened; he had no longer been able to leave the house.
All accounts describe them as a loving couple. Often witnessed at sunrise walking together hand in hand. She had a rare skin disorder, so they avoided the sun and the heat. Queensland probably had not been their best bet after immigrating from Europe some 20 years prior. They kept to themselves mostly. He was always seen driving their car to take her to the shops. He always answered the door to the occasional visitor. He spoke to the neighbours when they stopped by to talk neighbourly things. It appeared that she was dependent on him, so from all accounts, his death was to be her death too.
We never did hear about what actually happened to them; there have been no updates. Just as there have been no visitors to their house; it appears that they had no family or friends.
I decided to leave flowers at their front door; their deaths in my opinion, had to be acknowledged. But those flowers have dried out now. The water in the vase has gone rancid. The stench of death though not as strong, remains.
The Police had left the security light on. Day and night, the light fixated on illuminating the front entrance of the solemn home, like in some vain anticipation of a visitor. This bothered me. Some three months later, on my deceased Father's birthday, the light finally went out.
It's not unusual for 'home' to be the place most terminal patients reveal as their preferred place of death; ingrained in our cultural and social history is the perception that a 'good' death is one that occurs at home. Yet according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are currently no nationally consistent systems in place to accurately monitor statistics relating to place of death in Australia.
With the number of Australians aged 85 years and over expected to double to more than 1 million people by 2042 (ABS, 2018), the importance of information on place of death from an economic and health service provision perspective will continue to grow. And this isn't just an issue in Australia.
Research has revealed that there has been a growing trend since the 1980's in England, Wales and America of people being found long after death; their bodies already in a state of decomposition. Doctors link this shocking trend to austerity and social isolation; these rising numbers a product of wider societal breakdown.
While new research acknowledges the part Covid may have played in home deaths, the World Health Organization declared in November 2023 loneliness to be a threat to health on a global scale.
Check on your neighbours, folks.
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