A ninety year old woman died in her home and wasn't found for six months. Diaries found in her belongings shed light on this lonely and brilliant mind.
By
Andy Park

Airdate: 
Monday, August 11, 2014 - 19:30
Channel: 
SBS Two

She died just before her birthday, a fact not discovered until six months after what would have been her 90th. The dead woman’s Auburn house was as she left it and not a single soul knew the widow was decomposing through the kitchen floor of the house she’d lived in for almost half a century.

This was just one case in the 150 unattended deaths cleaned up every year by forensic cleaner Lee Iordanis including the mysterious death of Natalie Wood who lay undiscovered in her Kippax St, Surry Hills home for eight years.

Unattended deaths leave behind many unanswered questions. But this case was different, and left an incredible window into a generation of elderly people left alone in life and in death.

The last litre of milk she bought was dated January 7. It would have been the last time she was seen.

After putrefaction, the butyric fermentation and then dry decay, her bones were the only things left for the Coroner to remove except for the grey wisp of her disembodied scalp left perched on the chair she must have collapsed on. Her tea cup was sideways on the table, the tablecloth was wrinkled as if by two hands in agony. Her cheap Chinese slippers were left scattered amongst the dead maggots on the still damp floor.

The forensic cleaning crew set about pulling up the floor, even excavating the dirt underneath it, and stripping the entire house of soft furnishings as is standard practice when a death occurs in a house shut up for months like this. By not disclosing the woman’s name, whose worldly possessions are now in the hands of the public trustee, light can be shed on more intimate details of her life.

She was born in the Czech Republic in 1924. She was intelligent and studied medicine, before travelling to Egypt where she was married. She worked as a bilingual translator in Morocco before immigrating to Australia in 1957. She lived with her husband in their Auburn house from 1966. Her husband died in 2001 in an aged care facility, a place she reviled and remained suspicious of until the end, perhaps explaining why she hesitated to seek help.

When the elderly die alone without any relatives, such as in this case, a state-appointed cleaner collects everything worth selling. Everything else is thrown away.

The oil paintings she made hung on the living room wall. What few photos, mementos and sentimental papers from her immigration she kept in a tin. It all ends up in a skip bin.

So too the unassuming pile of cheap exercise books which lay next to her unfinished cryptic crossword and spectacles. They were filled with thousands of pages of immaculately handwritten diaries, smelling deeply of death and decay.

She was born in the Czech Republic in 1924. She was intelligent and studied medicine, before travelling to Egypt where she was married. She worked as a bilingual translator in Morocco before immigrating to Australia in 1957. She lived with her husband in their Auburn house from 1966. Her husband died in 2001 in an aged care facility, a place she reviled and remained suspicious of until the end, perhaps explaining why she hesitated to seek help.

Her will showed her beneficiaries neatly crossed out as they had died successively. She left the house to the RSPCA. Her last testament requested her two remaining wishes to be granted.

One was that her ashes be interred with those of her husband, which sat high up over the mantelpiece. The other was that she be allowed to die with dignity, with no extraordinary measures to be used, no needles, no tubes, no machines.

Read excerpts from the diary below.

These impressions, after a long life of nearly 90 years, are my own, right or wrong, are real and lived through. My ten fingers don’t need any support to hold a pen, and neither does my mind need any stimulants to express itself. A last pleasure of a lonely life. 

 

AGING

With aging, we realize that life can be compared to a constant falling of leaves. In dreamland, the leaves don’t fall anymore., they acquire a verdane, which never fades like memories.

With aging, the taste for fighting is gone drastically weakened, with the depletion of the hormones and we become silent pacifists, trying to adjust ourselves to what is left.

I know that I must look to others as a stupid old has-been, because I avoid most of the new and prefer the old, I am a complete ignoramus in the modern ways of life and I don’t mind. I can still walk to the shops and choose what I buy. My first hundred metres of walk(ing) might seem brisk, then (I) slow down to to just a careful pace, which suits my age.

Once in human history, old age was respected and even venerated, but no more today. IT’s a shocking fact to observe how old age is considered and treated.

It is the saddest occurrence when old people are displaced from their habits and placed into an unfamiliar milieu. They slowly die away too, which sometimes is a cruel death. Euthanasia would be a blessing. Once families cared for their aging parents, but today, many can’t be bothered or they want the old house for themselves.

I have reached 87 years of my life with no fanfares, with only one birthday card. However, I am still granted many blessings for which I am grateful. I still have my five senses, not as good as new, but quite serviceable. I can use my legs and walk with no fancy steps in a hurry.

I have reached that stage at the present. Am i of unsound mind? It might appear so to some privileged people, until they reach the point of no return themselves.

My own blessings for which I am grateful in my own age, would be judged by some with pity or with distain for an old fool by others. With the tendency of today to give a name to any malaise, it would be called depression and given some artificial props to make it vanish. In reality, it is a sadness for the things passed, for the wrong acts and words especially words, which can’t be erased…”

In the quietness of old age, many unanswered questions occupy the mind, with no definitive answers, only guesses.





The older one gets, the less one knows, not even the purpose of one’s life.

With old age, one’s life reveals itself as a long tapestry, woven with different kinds of threads, with different qualities, of durability, of beauty, or ugliness.

As it might be, I am certainly living my worst parts of my life. I have lately a delegation of medical experts, probably trying to prove signs of insanity by the questions they asked me.

Coming home today from the shops and leaning heavily on my cane, I am wondering if old age is a blessing or a curse or purgatory.

I changed the linen on my bed, vacuumed then spent an hour gardening. I might pay for it tomorrow, but I have enjoyed today and that is what counts.

I am quite content and satisfied with what I have, my only wish is to keep myself going, by still gleaning some new thoughts from here and there, reading or occupying myself with cryptic problems, which are quite good exercise for the mind.

 

HER HUSBAND

Today the mind wanders with ease though past decades of [his] birth and death. He would have been ninety years of age today if he had lived that long, but his memory is still fresh in my mind. The imprint of his life and death still live with me, but what has become of his spiritual part is a mystery to me. I have his ashes in the casket resting on the ledge of the chimney in the living room, waiting to be buried with mine. I could feel his presence when I touched the casket, but no more. His spirit is truly gone and only visits me in dreams.

Thinking about anything is a most rewarding occupation, especially when one lives alone and is considered by the young as feeble minded. In a few quick years, they will have the same verdict and many will learn what an aged care facility means… The last few year of [his] life spent in one of these facilities has opened my eyes…

My husband, spent the last years of his life at the mercy of those people…

 

HER HOUSE

What we leave behind us, once we are physically gone is an aura, which is impregnated into old houses and which differs from room to room. Is it the true selves which we leave behind? It seems so to me. In any old house, a death must have occurred with no exception. My house has two bedrooms and the atmosphere in each is quite different, In either of them for the past of some eighty years, there must have been some scenes of happiness and tragic sadness.The front bedroom radiates an atmosphere of peace and acceptance, while the back room has an opposite influence in it. There is no peace and acceptance in it, on the contrary, the atmosphere is full of rebellion, sadness and despair.

I have lived in my house for nearly half a century without seeing a snowdrop until this spring. I remember these flowers from the county of my birth as the first flowers of spring. To me it is a miracle of nature. It must have a touch of eternity to it. It might be that nothing dies really, but only bides it’s time to be resurrected.

 

HER PAST

I have lost my belief in heaven very early in my life. My mother died when I was only seven years old.

A sad nostalgia enters my mind. One remembers happy christmases, poor in presents, but rich in love. and richer in the memory they have left.

When we moved into our present house in 1966, the atmosphere of the streets was more or less one of a village formed by different nationalities. Today the friendly atmosphere of the neighbourhood is extinct. Except for a few privately owned houses, the whole neighbourhood has been transformed into apartment blocks or strangers. A smile and a good day or a helping hand have become as rare and as exceptional as a white whale.

 

ON MEMORY

Everyone and everything looks for happiness while alive and when it eludes us, we find it in memories.

My imagination has easily transferred me to the beaches with hoards of suntanned bodies enjoying the cool waters.

Long passed memories are awakened by some trivialhappenings and bring pleasure when re-living them.

The decline of the physical forces give an imagination to the mind. It becomes a treasure repository.

Though one’s life, the mind is burdened with a lot of trivia, like an overstuffed drawer. Then, with ageing, it throws out a lot of uselessness and retains vividly only the useful and treasured bits and truths… The schooling of the mind never ceases.

To me the mind can be compared to a treasure trove of a miser. Nothing is thrown away, but instead, is kept in the hope that it might come in handy someday.

I had lost my mother when I was only 7 years old and the mind returns vividly to her funeral. Among other memories, the mind has kept the melody of the last song accompanying the casket into the tomb.

In the end, death comes as a blessing, But no one sees it that way.These day’s I feel like a half dried rug, with all it purpose wrung out and I feel no blessings in being alive, Feasts and celebrations go by with no string sounding a gay tune., on the contrary, all strings are too thin to emit a joyous echo. Not even the stray cat came for a meal. In old age, the best hours are spent remembering. Is that one reason that we have been given the gift of remembering?

 

PHILOSOPHY 

The primary instinctive purpose of anyone's life is to keep it, by any means available.

Was my life complete worthless? I don’t know and never will know.

 

LONELINESS

I have done my baking and cleaning for today again. Should I worry about tomorrow or let it all go?

I haven't received a single christmas card from anyone of this generation or even a few years younger.

The young ones call it progress, because they have never known anything else. My generation thinks with nostalgia at the past forty or fifty years, when life was more friendly, without too much progress. Neighbours knew each other. Life was much easier for the aging population. Today, that courtesy is gone and forgotten. One has to fend for oneself.

Some might ask why I am living on my own and why I don’t seek help from others. It might seem a queer behaviour for many, with so many helpers, but to me the answer is quite simple and it is a “a complete lack of compassion and understanding…”

I am all alone and don’t seek human help. I still don’t know why I was born, I have this impression that I was just a prop, moved from place to place, whenever it was needed.

To me the most annoying mishaps occur during some public holidays, when there is no help to be found.

Living alone, abandoned by the humans and judged often as an old nitwit, I have experienced moments of miracles and ingenuity.

This year, Easter just gone, was the worst of my life, with no joy in the belief of an eternal happy life, like a happy ending to any story.

 

DIARY WRITING

Since my widowhood ten years ago, I have been writing my meditations, filling new books with them, even destroying them after re reading them.

Another year and a new book too in lieu of a friend. With aging, making friends becomes more difficult. Making a friend with a few empty pages of a book is much simpler. The empty pages become a trusted and silent confidant, with no criticism expressed. They accept us as we are.

Scribbling and filling the pages might seem a waste of time immaterial for no one is going to decipher them, but to me it is an exercise in thinking and evaluating and a pleasure within itself. It keeps the mind working in a logical way. Exercising the mind at my age is easier than exercising the body, which has it’s own way to rebel and punish.

Some days I write and on other days I shred and throw away what I have written.

Am I writing nonsense? It doesn't matter as no one is going to contest my thoughts.

However, before finishing these gloomy thoughts, I must mention one way how to change them into less gloomy and self destructive. The best way known to me is to get up, make a mug of tea and try to write and put my thoughts on paper.

My meditations have reached a point of tiredness and futility so great that even the ink in my pen has dried out. So be it. This end of the year has been the worst of my life.

 

ON TIME

There are days which are simply dragging on at a snails pace,the hours are twice as long with nothing worth to stir the mind. The life unanswered questions have lots all their attractiveness and one realizes the futility of life. We came into it with nothing and we leave it with nothing., after adding some waste to be recycled, which time and elements take care of.

It’s early morning. The night has passed without a breath of air, as if nature were waiting for a finale. What will it be? No traffic, no humming of the wires, not a tree-leaf moves, not even a peep from a bird, although it is getting light. It’s now past 9 o'clock and I know what it means when the time stands still.

The best time for meditation, at least for me, are the early hours of the day. It can be done in the warmth of the bed or the silence of the house, greeting a new day.

Time is part of eternity and can’t be changed, only fiddled with. Only it’s tempo hides it secrets.

 

HUMOUR

There is no better motive for walking to the shops, as a lack of cigarettes as I have found today.

Why should I have a microwave oven? Where do the microwaves finish up?

 

FALLS

An instant black spot emerged in my eyes and made me fall down. I was perfectly conscious of the fall, but could not prevent it.

The physical falls in old age are less hurtful and harmful, than the emotional hurts. I have witnessed many of them and that is the main reason why I am living alone. My latest fall was as sudden as half a heart beat ...I can only be grateful that I have been able to get up..

I had a good example of that today after missing a down-step, resulting in my heavy fall. Without the divine help and my own, I could still be splashed on the floor today, without the without the least bother….Bruised, I still had to find a way to pick myself up, lucky that my bones are still solid, despite my age. A few dark bruises will heal and teach me more prudence in each step I take and be thankful for all the blessings I still enjoy.

 

SUICIDE

I believe that in every life, there come a period of saturation, a period of giving up because nothing else can be added and death is the natural consequence.

All I can do is hasen the “coup de grace”. The how and when remains to be decided by me. I have at my disposal four kinds of deadly pills… Mixed together they should accomplish the coup-de-grace for me. Death is inevitable. For some perhaps lucky, it comes swiftly, while for others it wavers slowly Why is it so? I don’t know. It seems like both heaven and hell can’t decide which will accept our spirit. It’s rather like me now, hoping for a miracle in my loneliness and doubts.

Well it isn't today for me, to take in the different poisons in different pills in a wish to terminate my life. They can wait for another trying day.

I am going to live another day and perhaps tomorrow will be sunnier. Does hope ever die?

I can feel the end of my days. It is announced by the weakening of the legs and arms with a slight tremor in them, So be it. I hope that the bitter cocktail of drugs will help be to pass away peacefully. To help me make my own last decision, some thieves and devils have aided my decision. A week ago, they have tried to get inside my house.

I will wait for a bit longer before terminating my existence.The future will decide. For the moment, the world is a more inviting place than a black hole in the ground, despite my tribulations.

A few weeks have passed now since my preparation of a lethal dose of poisons. It is still standing untouched on the side table.


 

ON DEATH AND DYING

We often hear the expression of I wish I was dead. How sincere is that expression? It sounds more like a crying baby who wishes to be picked up and consoled. Even the suicidee wants to be found before his or her death.

Some unpleasant thoughts come to the mind about pronouncing a person to be dead.

Is it time for my faulty heart to give up?

March must be an ominous month for me, my family and friends, for I have lost a lot of them during the month of march. My own strength is weakening now too.

Recently, I have listened to the wireless, to a talk about the aged population. A lot of them terminate their last years in the institutions, but twenty per cent of them remain and die in their own homes. I hope that I will be part of the twenty per cent. It is my last and greatest wish. 

 

If you are concerned about your neighbour or member of your community, here is what you can do: 

Telephone your local police for a "welfare check” on someone in your community you believe might need help or assistance. 

The Community Visitors Scheme (http://health.gov.au/cvs) is a national program of volunteers that provides companionship to socially or culturally isolated people living in Australian Government-subsidised aged care homes. Call 1800 200 422 for more information.

Neighbour Day is run by Relationships Australia and is an annual celebration of community, bringing together the people next door, across the street or on the next farm for a beer, a barbie or just a cuppa. They specifically target the protection of the elderly, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. Call 1300 364 277 for more information.

Telecross provides peace of mind to people who are isolated through a daily call to check on their wellbeing and safety. The Red Cross service provides trained volunteers to make calls each morning, 365 days a year to. In the event of three unanswered calls in one day, Red Cross begins an emergency activation procedure to make sure the person is ok. Call 1300 885 698 to volenteerfor more information.

Lifeline offers free 24 hour phone counselling on 13 11 14.

Get in touch with your local council to see what community programs are run in your area.