Dying Alone in NYC

The solitude of so many deaths wears on Mr. [Juan] Plaza, the fear that someday it will be him splayed on the floor in one of these silent apartments. “This job teaches you a lot,” he said. “You learn whatever material stuff you have you should use it and share it. Share yourself. People die with nobody to talk to. They die and relatives come out of the woodwork. ‘He was my uncle. He was my cousin. Give me what he had.’ Gimme, gimme. Yet when he was alive they never visited, never knew the person. From working in this office, my life changed.”

He is 52, also divorced, and without children, but he keeps expanding his base of friends. Every day, he sends them motivational Instagram messages: “With each sunrise, may we value every minute”; “Be kind, smile to the world and it will smile back”; “Share your life with loved ones”; “Love, forgive, forget.”

He said: “When I die, someone will find out the same day or the next day. Since I’ve worked here, my list of friends has gotten longer and longer. I don’t want to die alone.”

. . .

The undertaker was a Christian, and believed that George Bell was already in another place, a better place, but still. “I don’t think everyone should have an elaborate funeral,” he said in a soft voice. “But I think burial or cremation should be with respect, or else what is society about? I think about this man. I believe we’re all connected. We’re all products of the same God. Does it matter that this man should be cremated with respect? Yes, it does.”

. . .

The last time the Dude saw George Bell was about a week before his body was found. Frozen shrimp was on sale at the shopping center. George Bell got some, to take back to the kitchen he did not use.

Mr. Bertone didn’t realize he had died until someone came to Legends with the news. Mr. Kerins was there and he told the Dude. They made some calls to find out more, but got nowhere.

Why did he die alone, no one knowing?

The Dude thought on that. “I don’t know, man,” he said. “I wish I could tell you. But I don’t know.”

On the televisions above the busy bar, a woman was promoting a cleaning product. In the dim light, Mr. Bertone emptied his drink. “You know, I miss him,” he said. “I would have liked to see George one more time. He was my friend. One more time.”

The Lonely Death of George Bell

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