I wondered if it was just my overactive imagination, or perhaps the product of watching too many true crime documentaries, but a quick poll of some of my Single friends tells me I’m not alone in asking this question. How long could I be dead before people would notice I’m missing?
I’ve seen the news reports – I’m sure you’ve seen them too – where neighbours alert authorities to an unpleasant smell, an overflowing mailbox or dogs barking incessantly and the subsequent inquiries reveal someone who has died. Clearly, some time ago. And it had gone seemingly unnoticed until now. It’s one of my worst fears.
As someone who lives alone and quite independently, there are often long stretches of time between points of check in. Frequently, when travelling between locations – the office, home, from one work visit site to another, church, a friend’s, the gym, a family event – I’ll find myself calculating the amount of time there is until the next point that my absence would be noticed. My church friends might just assume I’ve slept in or I’m speaking at another church, the gym has my money and doesn’t check to see why I didn’t show up to a class I’ve booked, my work colleagues could assume I’m having meetings or working offsite … it leaves substantial chunks of time in which I could be dead (or in less dramatic but still significant difficulty!) and no one knows yet.
I spend a lot of time on the road. That same active imagination allows me to envisage a scenario where I’m involved in an accident of some catastrophic, fatal nature, and the attending emergency services have to find out who I am. They could discover my home address but no one would be there. They could knock on a neighbour’s door but it depends which door they chose as to how helpful that would be. They could try the last number called in my phone – but that could be someone that I don’t even know personally. Anyway, these are long drives, I’ve had plenty of time to (over)think.
I recently saw a conversation thread on an online chat forum that raised the topic of Singleness and Illness. Pertinently, several Single post-ers commented on bouts of sickness that saw them home-bound for multiple days without anyone inquiring or offering assistance. For many, it was not so much the issue of being unable to look after themselves or requiring medical care but the fear attached to the experience. What if my condition worsens? How long must it be before someone notices my absence?
Of course, the answer is simple and, perhaps, obvious. A Single person who is sick just needs to make sure they let someone know they are, right? But the flip side of that is the often larger fear of Singles that they are perceived as needy or overly focussed on themselves. “Hi Pete, just ringing to let you know I have a bit of a cold coming on.” “Lucy, it’s 8:07, I’m leaving home. It’s 8:52, I’ve arrived at work. It’s 4:39, I’m going home via the supermarket.”
Every time I speak (write) something like this out loud it’s met with an enthusiastic cry of “yesssssss!” from Singles and a general sense of relief to hear that someone else knows and understands. That maybe they’re not so strange, or needy, or self-focussed – that maybe, just maybe, this reflects a legitimate heart cry to be known, looked-out-for and not too far beyond the reach of care or interest.
Couples and families, next time you’re feeling “checked up on” you might consider the gift that is to you. When you’re someone’s someone, they generally care about where you are! They keep short accounts. They check if you’re not where you’re meant to be when you’re meant to be. There’s a blessing in there that you could be mindful to appreciate.
And all of us, check in on your Single friends! Notice when they’ve not been in touch for a while, inquire about their health, show interest in their movements and schedule. It doesn’t take much to keep everyone connected … and off the news!