I have a friend who works as a general handyman in an apartment complex. He told me how about a month ago, one of the elderly tenants, a man living alone, had been taken to a hospice. Sadly, the man seems to have had no living relatives or friends to claim his belongings.
My friend showed me an old lighter he had found there that he thought I might find interesting. It was, in fact, just an old Zippo, and while the case was somewhat unusual, it was really nothing out of the ordinary.
But the lighter had been engraved, “Uncle David”. Clearly he must have had someone in his life that cared about him at one point, since they not only gave him this lighter, but took the trouble to have it engraved. It was an inexpensive yet thoughtful gift. And yet now there was apparently no one left in his life, and he was taken to a hospice where he would die as he had lived, alone.
As I gazed at the lighter, I pondered who “Uncle David” might have been. I wondered what his days had been like. He apparently was a man of few possessions, but owned many books. Yet these evidently gave him little joy, as they were very dusty and had obviously not been touched for several years. It seems as though he spent his last years alone, watching TV and smoking. I wondered if, when he lit his cigarettes with the lighter engraved with his name, he thought about the niece or nephew who gave it to him, and if he wondered why he or she never visited him anymore.
Among the many tragedies of the human condition, loneliness, especially the loneliness of the aged, is among the most tragic. To live out one’s last days bereft of human companionship, with only memories of the loved ones who have either died or stopped visiting to provide some scant comfort, and where each soul-destroying day is as bland and as empty as the next, is simply a living death.
My heart went out to this lonely old man whom I had never met, and never would meet. I thought of him living his last days all alone, with his TV and his cigarettes, perhaps wondering if he would ever again have a visitor, and feel the comfort of human contact. What had he done to end up like this? Was he, perhaps, a difficult old man? Or had he simply become, like so many elderly people, an inconvenient old uncle, someone whom his younger relatives remembered, when they remembered him at all, with a certain sense of guilt mixed, perhaps, with a bit of resentment for having committed the sin of getting old. I wonder: are there any who will weep at the passing of “Uncle David”, or will he go to his grave alone and forgotten, with none to mourn at his graveside?