Vincent, the regular 'washer-upper' on the St John's Friday tea room team died Monday night. He was in his eighties. A fortnight ago he'd been found on the floor at home, having collapsed, and maybe lying there overnight. He recovered, but was kept in hospital for tests to find out why he collapsed, but he died quietly in his sleep. He was a quiet, friendly man, very private, and he lived alone. The police had to break into his house as no neighbour seemed to have a key. He had several hospital visitors including the chaplain who used to take Communion at home to his infirm mother, friends from a local Methodist lunch club in Cathays, from the tea room, and myself.
However, he shared very little personal information with anyone. The hospital had not succeeded in extracting from him any details for next of kin or others to be contacted in case of need. The only relatives ever mentioned live in Australia and the USA, and nobody is sure how close they were to him or whether they are older or younger than him. Indeed, last night, I was 'helping the police with their enquiries' as the saying goes. Two police officers came visiting at home around nine thirty, made aware of his church links by the hospital, to see if there was any information that could help them contact someone on his behalf. As nobody seems to have been able to come up with anything, a police officer or coroner's court offical will now have to go through his house and personal effects in search of a will, or a phone book to get them started. An unhappy task in dealing with a stranger. Work is not all about catching crooks for them.
Members of the congregation are all wondering if and how we'll be able to hold a funeral service for him, so all his friends can say goodbye. Although he appeared to be a loner, (probably an effect of growing deafness and poor sight) he endeared himself to many people. He had a way at looking you in a way that suggested trust and openness of heart. He was constant in attending Sunday worship. He'll be missed on Fridays and Sundays.
More and more people in modern society, of all ages, now live alone, some of them feeling secure in their anonymity, some not liking anyone to know their business. As long as they can manage on their own that poses no problem to anyone, but once they are ill, incapacitated or they die, lack of information about them becomes an urgent concern, involving many in the community as well as health services and agencies of the law. So, while I have doubts about the overly fancy technology of government identity card policy, and its potential for abuse, the principal of obliging all people to own and carry an identity card is to everyone's benefit in the long run. It may even help to make grieving a more bearable process.