A few weeks ago, I watched a rather disturbing documentary called Dreams of a Life. The documentary was about a woman named Joyce Carol Vincent, who was found in her apartment approximately three years after she had died, apparently of natural causes. The newspaper story that was published after her remains were discovered haunted many in England. The television was still on when the apartment was opened up, as if it had kept watch over her all those long months. But more central to the article and to the documentary was how a woman could have disappeared for three years without anybody noticing.
How does someone pass away and remain untouched in their home for 36 months? Did no one notice she was missing all that time? Did no one call on her and worry after not getting a reply? The documentary primarily is based on people who knew (to some extent) this woman in her life. They were acquaintances, mostly, and they all said that Joyce was one of those people who tended to drift in and out of your life. Her disappearance had not really seemed that surprising or abnormal.
Maybe the most tragic part of this story is that the people who discovered the grim scene in Vincent’s apartment also found, near her remains, Christmas presents that had been wrapped. Who was she sending presents to? Were they her way of reaching out to the people who would end up not noticing her absence?
During the holiday season, people often feel pressure to give money or to give presents. There is a sort of sense, it seems, that if you give people tangible items or money so that they can get their own tangible items, it will be clear that you have done your obligatory caring for the year. The story of Joyce Carol Vincent reminds us of something different, however. Whether thinking about people we love and adore or people whom we may not know, sometimes the best gift we can give is simply to show that we really care.
A great but overlooked activity that can take place during the holiday season is to send a card to someone you haven’t talked to in a while, or give them a phone call. Ask how they are doing with no strings attached. If you know that someone is going through a hard time, which can happen to people during the holiday season, make sure you check on them and try to brighten their days.
As a social good organization, it is important to remember that going through the motions is not really what will differentiate you from other causes out there. Anyone can raise funds. Anyone can scoop out food at a shelter or send resources overseas. What makes your organization special, especially at this time of year, is the fact that you really care. If you can show people who may not feel loved that they really do have people on their side, that just might be the lift they have been waiting for.
There are a lot of people who have had a really tough year in 2013. Even though the economy in the U.S. has improved, there are many people who remain unemployed or under-employed. There are people who have been driven out of their homes due to tragedies, healthcare costs, and more. As a cause, you can find these people and help give them a lift. As individuals, we can too.
It’s hard to imagine how isolated Joyce Carol Vincent must have felt the day she died, knowing, perhaps, that her absence would not be noticed by those with whom she had come into contact. This holiday season, find the people who might be flying under your radar, whether it’s your radar as a person, as a cause, or both. That may be the best gift they get all year.