Too many of our elderly are living and dying alone.
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.
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.
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.
I opened the fridge and found the last litre of milk she bought 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.
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…