346: Home Alone
Dec 21, 2007
A 79-year-old woman, Mary Ann, dies in Los Angeles. She's lived alone for decades. No one knows her—or her next of kin. There's a body to be buried, a house full of stuff to get rid of.
It so happens there's a county bureaucracy for just this type of problem. In this show, we follow around the person charged with figuring out what to do with the remains of Mary Ann's life. This and other stories about what happens when people are left alone.
- Yvonne has lived by herself for 12 years, ever since her last child moved out. She eats dinner by herself, takes care of the house on her own, and usually spends most holidays alone. She explains why she's perfectly happy this way—and has no desire to live with anyone else. (4 minutes)
- Mary Ann was an elderly woman living by herself in Los Angeles County. She wasn't married, didn't have children, wasn't in touch with any of her family. When she became sick and went to the hospital, the only contact she had was Sue, the woman who delivered her prescriptions from the pharmacy. Then, Mary Ann died. There was a body to be buried, a house full of stuff to get rid of—but no family or friends to deal with it all. Luckily, there was Emily, an investigator for the Los Angeles Public Administrator's Office. It's her job to take care of the remains of lives like Mary Ann's. Eric Klinenberg reports the story. He's a sociologist, whose most recent book is Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. (15 minutes)
- Growing up, Clevins Browne moved all over New York with his mother, in different apartments and homeless shelters. But that all changed when he was 12, and they got an apartment in a public housing complex in Brooklyn. Then, when he had just turned 15, his mom collapsed in pain while they were watching TV at home. Clevins called 911, and then hid in the closet, so he wouldn't be taken away by child services. He stayed in the apartment by himself—with no money, hardly any food—until his mother came home from the hospital: Five months later. Clevins talked to This American Life producer Sarah Koenig, about how he survived. (22 minutes)
- When she was in kindergarten, Jennifer, along with her brother and mother, was held hostage by an armed gunman for four days. Their father was a drug dealer and had disappeared with a bunch of cocaine that belonged to someone else. The gunman had been sent to hold the family hostage until he returned the drugs. But the gangsters didn't count on Jennifer's mother being so tough—frightening enough, in fact, to almost make the guy leave. And not only that: Her mother was so composed, that Jennifer and her brother never even knew they were being held hostage. (14 minutes)