Yesterday evening, in a phone call with her friend J, I learned that my friend H had died in bed, after police were called to her flat because she hadn't been seen for a few days and neighbours were concerned. Unspeakably sad to think of her alone and possibly frightened or in pain (we have no further information about how or even exactly when it happened). I'd known her for more than 40 years, since we were at university, and although I hadn't seen much of her since we moved to France, we did keep in touch by phone and email -- in fact I had an email from her last Sunday, which didn't give me any reason to think anything was wrong.
As far as we know, she had no next of kin, and in many ways she led a compartmentalised life -- she had various scattered friends who didn't know each other, or only slightly. The police found a card from a friend who happened to have the same surname as her, and assumed she was a relative, so they got in touch with her, and she in turn contacted J. On the phone we talked back and forth about how to let people know when we didn't have contact details for some of them, only first names that H had mentioned to us in conversation. I first met H in 1976 through her ex-partner R. They broke up long ago, but I knew they still kept in contact, and she mentioned him from time to time. It's a funny new world; I hadn't seen him since the 1980s, and he has quite a common name, yet a two-minute search on Linked In brought him up, instantly recognisable -- and that's how J managed to contact me too.
H spent the last decade in a constant state of stress over money and health problems, working all hours as a freelancer without even earning enough to live on comfortably, and getting increasingly weaker and less mobile, barely leaving her flat. She would quite often ask me for advice, and I would try to help, but she never followed it because we just didn't have the same outlook on life; she couldn't change who she was and make better (to my mind) choices. For example she was surely eligible for some kind of state help, but her loathing of bureaucracy meant that she would never even apply, even as she was worrying about the next month's rent or how she was going to afford essential dental treatment. For a few years I was quite cross with her, but I ended up just feeling very sorry for her, and powerless to help. Her future was bleak; she literally couldn't afford to retire.
Not sure what's going to happen next as I'm waiting to hear from R -- in the meantime, here's some blossom in memoriam. She liked following my blips, giving her a glimpse of a world beyond her four walls.