Our family founded and now runs what technically is known as a biohazard remediation service. We are involved in providing specialized cleaning and sanitization solutions for home and business owners, oftentimes in the aftermath of a traumatic event. These tragedies include homicides, suicides, and the discovery of the remains of a person who passed away but the death was not promptly discovered. Not long ago, we were called upon to assist in the aftermath of that type of unattended death or undiscovered death.
Understanding an Unattended Death
An unattended death (or an undiscovered death) is on in which a person dies alone and the remains of the individual remained undiscovered for what can be an extended period of time. We’ve confronted unattended deaths in which the body of the person who died was not discovered for days, weeks, or even months.
In writing this today, I understand how incomprehensible it may seem that people die alone and their passing is not discovered in a timely fashion. Princess Diana once said “loneliness is the worst pain in this world. It constantly eats away at a person’s heart.” In the end, perhaps the only thing worse than loneliness during life is being without a human connection at the time a person passes away.
When it comes to responding to provide our services following an undiscovered death, there is nothing we can do to ease the isolation and sadness the person who passed very well may have experienced while alive. I’ve found that there are two things that we can do through our service:
First, we can honor the dignity and humanity of the individual who has experienced an unattended death. We always undertake an unattended death cleanup with the utmost compassion and a keen recognition we are restoring a home where a person lived his or her life.
Second, we have come to appreciate first-hand how an unattended death impacts the individuals who survive the passing. This oftentimes includes family members who, for one reason or another, did not maintain regular contact with the individual who has died. We extend our compassion and support to these survivors and strive to make the process of restoring a sense of order as painless as possible.
A Daughter’s Phone Call
As mentioned a moment ago, not too long ago we received a telephone call from a person needing our services. In this instance, the caller was a woman who advised me that she was the only heir of her father’s estate. She told me that her father had died alone and his body was not immediately discovered. In addition to addressing the aftermath of that type of death, the daughter of the deceased man also wanted us to generally cleanup up the deceased man’s home. In order to protect her privacy, I call her Katy.
In addition to explaining to me the specific services that were required from our company, Katy provided us some insights into the deceased man’s life. We nearly always are provided at least some personal information about a person who has died, including that associated with his relationships during life. In being hired to remediate the aftermath of an unattended death, we understand upfront that the deceased likely lacked regular contact with others. At the heart of that reality is always the question of “why?” More often than not, a family or friends share the “why” of a deceased person’s isolation with us.
In this case, the man who passed away and the caller’s mother had divorced about a decade earlier. Katy was 15 years old at the time of her parents’ divorce. Since the divorce, the woman had not seen her father. Indeed, the young woman had not even spoken with her father on the phone or communicated with him in any way since she was 15. She was very stoic in conveying this information to me.
We discussed a few other matters associated with her father’s death and the likely state of his home. Katy explained that her father was in poor health and probably had not been taking care of himself. She further noted that her father had a serious drinking problem. In fact, that was the primary reason why her mother filed for divorce and why the caller herself had disconnected entirely from her own father.
I made a comment to the effect that the situation sounded tragic for those involved. At that point, the young woman’s voice softened for the first time and she agreed with me.
As we concluded our telephone call, Katy said she wanted to make sure that we disposed of all of the alcohol bottles that we would find in her father’s home. She knew she eventually would need to come over to the house and couldn’t bear to see the remnants of the man’s drinking. We assured her that we would get rid of any and all alcohol containers found at the property.
My husband, the co-owner of our business, undertook the cleaning process himself. The residence was filthy, and the deceased man clearly was not living well. However, my husband immediately discovered that there were no alcohol bottles, filled or empty anywhere on the property. Nothing. Somewhere along the way from the point in time Katy’s parents divorced and her father’s death, the man had stopped drinking.
I talked to the deceased man’s daughter, Katy, as work progressed on the cleanup of her father’s home. I was able to share with her that we found no alcohol containers, including empty ones, anywhere in her father’s home.
In working for others during challenging moments in their own lives, I regularly learn something about life generally and even specifically about myself. Such was the case when our family business took on the job of remediating the aftermath of the unattended death of Katy’s father.
In my own mind, I was saddened by what I perceived as Katy’s lack of opportunity to make peace with her father. I’ve had my own struggles with my father through the years. Like Katy, there was a point in my own life at which I stopped communicating with my father. I did reach out to my father for a short time and communicated with him and saw him in person a few times. In the end, these contacts resurrected a considerable amount of pain for me.
My father was still and live and when the time comes I can try reaching out to him again. Katy lost that opportunity when her father died. As those thoughts spun in my head, Katy made a comment that has stuck with me ever since.
When I told Katy about there being no evidence that her father was drinking, Katy said to me:
“You know, I can take comfort I that.” She went on to explain that she realized that she would now never have the chance to try and restore a relationship with her father.
“But, I do have a sense of comfort,” she said. “I can take comfort in knowing that my father appears to have been able to finally address the primary thing that destroyed our family in the first place. I suppose it’s a small comfort, but it is something positive nevertheless.” She paused for a moment and added:
“I guess it’s a small comfort for me. On the other hand, being able to finally kick drinking had to have been a huge challenge for my father … a major accomplishment for him. And even though we were never able to connect during his life, we both have something that can provide us at least some level of comfort today. Knowing this helps me to find at least some level of peace.”
In listening to Katy, and in considering my own personal circumstances, I was reminded of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.