Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. – Bishop Desmond Tutu
Frank Sinatra. Elizabeth Taylor. Liberace. Mickey Rooney. Bob Hope. Rock Hudson. Lauren Bacall. Marilyn Monroe.
The name of the city, coupled with the legendary icons of Hollywood’s Golden Era, cements Palm Springs in the minds of people nearly everywhere as one of the most glamorous locations in the United States. Although the city is evolving, Palm Springs remains a tony, upscale community with few rivals in Southern California or the United States.
With that all said, as is the case with any community, Palm Springs is not without its quiet tragedies, horrific turns of events that happen in or even at the end of lives of people who call the dessert community home.
I am a part of a family owned business that provides what technically is known as biohazard remediation services. For example, if a person who lives an isolated life dies in his or her home, the body may not be discovered for quite some time. Of course, this is a gruesome subject, but it is also a sad reality of life and death for some people, even in an exciting, vibrant city like Palm Springs.
The owner of an apartment building in Palm Springs called us to clean up after a situation of that nature. In this case, an elderly man had lived alone died, his body not being discovered for a couple of weeks. We began our work after the Riverside Coroner removed the remains of the deceased man from the apartment.
The first task at hand was eliminating any blood or bodily fluids that were left behind as a result of the remains being left in the apartment for a couple of weeks. In this situation, the gentleman was emaciated at the time he died, perhaps because of disease or illness, perhaps because he didn’t have the resources to buy enough food, perhaps because of both factors. In any event, because of his physical state before he passed away, there wasn’t much to cleanup in the way of blood or bodily fluids. However, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a herculean task in front of us to restore the apartment to a safe, healthy, livable condition.
Saying that the elderly man lived in squalor doesn’t really begin the situation we encountered at the one-bedroom apartment the man called “home.” The man truly had been living in filth. We discovered that the toilet was not working. As a result, the man had been urinating on the floor. Despite the fact we did very close cleaning and sanitization work in the apartment, we never could figure out where the man was eliminated stool or feces.
The apartment was littered with wine bottles. For example, all around the mattress on the floor, where the man evidently slept, there were wine bottles piled up over two feet.
The stench at the apartment is miserable, intolerable. The owner of the building wanted us to throw everything out and to eliminate the pervasive, penetrating foul odor.
During our first day of work, the deceased tenant’s ex-wife appeared at the scene “on behalf of the children.” The man did have children who hadn’t maintained contact with the man while he was alive. The ex-wife appeared to collect valuables on behalf of the absent children – absent that day and, again, in the life of the deceased man.
There was nothing of financial value in the apartment. There were some items of sentimental value, including photos. The ex-wife made it abundantly (and sadly, painfully) clear that the children wanted nothing like that – they only anything that was worth money.
I must say that at the end of day one or our cleaning and remediation effort – both because of the state of the apartment and the visit from the former wife on behalf of the deceased man’s children – our team left the scene sincerely saddened by it all.
On the second day, another woman showed up at the apartment as we were working. The elderly woman identified herself as having been the deceased man’s one-time girlfriend. She had dated the man many years earlier, when they both were in the earlier years of their adult lives. The woman was very distraught.
She had been trying to call the man for a couple of weeks but heard nothing back from him. She’d been worried but hadn’t imagined that he had died alone.
The former girlfriend told me that the man would always be best etched in her mind as the handsome, dashing younger man that he once was. She described him as a good man that could not overcome his dependence on alcohol.
Throughout their lives, and after they stopped dating, the woman and the man who passed had always remained in contact. In recent years, the woman provided the man transportation to medical appointments, the grocery story, and on similar tasks.
Unlike the visitor from the day before, the only request the former girlfriend had was for any photos that might be around. As it turned out, we had thrown out the photos the day before as part of the cleaning process.
The only item left was a dirty figurine featuring a pair of penguins sharing an iceberg. I offered the penguin piece to the woman, who accepted it as if I had handed her priceless jewels. The former girlfriend had something tangible that she could hold on to as a means of remembering a man she truly cared for and mourned.
At the end of the second day of work, my team and I went home feeling more hopeful. Thanks to the visit from the girlfriend from long ago, we all got a glimpse of light in what otherwise had been a dark experience.