When the film-maker Carol Morley read that the skeleton of a young woman had been found in a London bedsit, she knew she had to find out more…
My first contact with this story was a Facebook post “Do you know this woman? Her name is Joyce Carol Vincent. This is a British born woman whose father came from Grenada and her mother came from India. She had four sisters. She was known to have met Nelson Mandela, Gil Scott Heron, soul singer Betty Wright and had dinner with Stevie Wonder.”
I was intrigued so I hit the search engines and found a story in The Observer, dated Sunday October 9 2011 – “On the 25 January 2006, officials from a north London housing association repossessing a bedsit in Wood Green owing to rent arrears made a grim discovery. Lying on the sofa was the skeleton of a 38-year-old woman who had been dead for almost three years. In a corner of the room the television set was still on, tuned to BBC1, and a small pile of unopened Christmas presents lay on the floor. Washing up was heaped in the kitchen sink and a mountain of post lay behind the front door. Food in the refrigerator was marked with 2003 expiry dates. The dead woman’s body was so badly decomposed it could only be identified by comparing dental records with an old holiday photograph of her smiling. Her name was revealed to be Joyce Carol Vincent.”
A series of “how” questions popped into my head. How was this possible? How could nobody miss this woman? Didn’t she have friends, family, and associates? And then I asked myself the same question as I’m asking you today “would anyone miss you if you suddenly disappeared?” I let it sit with me for about four days and concluded that this question provoked thoughts around impact and connection.
We all want to feel that we’re important—that our lives matter—and that often comes down to feeling that we’re doing something special. Wanting to feel special and valued is not inherently bad. Founder of Tiny Buddha, Lori Deschene explains what happens when it becomes bad. “What’s detrimental is not BEING AWARE of that desire, and then making choices that don’t fully align with our values and priorities in the pursuit of external validation.”
I think we desire external validation to feel more like we belong or that we fit in. Many times when we’re unable to connect with ourselves, we seek connections with others to fill that void.
I would never know what Joyce was after in her life – what impact she wanted to make, but in her death all those interviewed by filmmaker Carol Morley (who produced a movie about Joyce’s life called Dreams of a Life) seemed to question how well they knew Joyce at all.
“You look back and think; I wish I’d asked more, wish I’d understood more.”
“I want to know Joyce’s story myself, and that sounds ridiculous coming from someone who knew her. There must have been signs she would end this way, but if there were she covered them up with this happy-go-lucky, having-a-great-time act.”
“I know it sounds odd, but it seems like we’re talking about two different people. I just can’t connect the Joyce who died to the Joyce that we knew. I mean she gave this impression of being a happy, bubbly person but it does make you wonder what was really going on.”
“The place she ended up living in doesn’t tie up with her persona. I always imagined she lived in a really nice Victorian house, lovely furniture, and nice things around her, with everything immaculate and perfect. Not somewhere like that.”
Perhaps it was Joyce’s choice to remain isolated. Her cause of death could not be ascertained and the coroner’s report ruled out foul play. But more questions surfaced for me: Do we engage enough? When we ask about others, are we listening or just waiting for a lull in the conversation to share what we want to share? Do we care enough to know more or are we afraid that we’ll get too much information and we don’t have the capacity to deal with others’ stuff as we have enough on our plate? Do we brush off people who we think are dead-beats and cast them aside as not belonging in our inner circle? Do we make assumptions that because someone’s life appears to be ok that everything IS ok? Is it our business to find out or should we just leave people alone and simply see after ourselves?
We all want to feel worthy and maybe the greatest feeling of worth, is simply knowing that we’re all connected, and we all have the capacity to do something worthwhile for ourselves and the greater good.
I’m not trying to analyze Joyce or her life. But her story certainly is important enough for ALL of us to remind ourselves that we are special. That it is not selfish to ask questions like: What is genuinely important to me? What do I enjoy doing for the sake of it? What’s the difference I’d like to make, whether people know I make it or not? That it is important for us to connect with and support others on our all too brief journey here on earth and to remember that we inevitably feel like our lives matter, when we do something about the things that matter to us.