I can not fathom dying alone with nobody even picking up the phone to check on me.

 Imagine sitting in your living room one evening, wrapping some last minute Christmas gifts, when for some reason or another you take your last breath. Nobody around to witness it, nobody in your life who even cares. Even worse, to sit there for three years as your body slowly decays, the static that once crackled on your television dying along with you.

I’m sure many of us cannot imagine such extreme circumstances, but that is exactly what happened to Joyce Vincent in 2003. She was a beautiful young Caribbean woman from North London whom many confessed to being someone who everybody loved–just not enough to make sure that she was still alive and well. This real-life tragedy was recently depicted on an episode of  Being Mary Jane”, and the story is so heartbreaking that even portraying it on a TV show couldn’t mask the emotional impact of what it must be like to die alone.

To date, no one knows what caused the death of the 38-year-old woman who by many accounts seemed to be living “the life,” but more disturbing is the fact that her death wasn’t realized until three years later during an eviction. It’s a mystery that filmmaker Carol Morley set out to explore in her new documentary Dreams of Life, which debuted this past October at the BFI Film Festival in London and has garnered nomination buzz for best documentary.

While researching the mysterious events following Joyce’s death, Carol Morley initially had a difficult time finding anyone who even knew the young woman. The ones who did–the family members of the deceased who attended her funeral–would not respond to Morley’s inquiries. Finally after some time, past friends and associates began to reach out to share their memories of the woman they saw as a beautifully talented, sociable and intelligent woman who they thought had it all together. By many accounts Joyce was popular, lovable, and charismatic. She was a singer, whose gift led her to meet celebrities such as Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and even Nelson Mandela.

So what happened within the life of this budding singer/socialite that forced her to withdraw from the public, resulting in her death going unnoticed for so many years?  While many people focus on how a seemingly healthy young woman died suddenly, I believe many don’t consider the possibility that she died of loneliness–something that many people quietly suffer from every day.

The signs are sometimes there, but we’re too busy to see them. Here are three things I personally took away from Joyce’s story on what to look out for before those I cherish drift away.

JUST BECAUSE THEY SMILE DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE HAPPY

I’m acquainted with so many young women who insist that they’re so independent and they don’t need anyone in their lives, so they focus on work and never make time for anything else. I know women who have given up on love due to past heartbreaks, and given up on friends because they’re unable to trust others. Is this what happened to Joyce? Did she give up on building new relationships with others due to past hurts, and eventually waste away in her loneliness?

I’m sure many of us have heard the saying “smiling on the outside, crying on the inside.” The truth is, this world and everything that comes with it can be depressing. There have been plenty of times that I’ve kept my emotions inside, pretending like everything was okay, when inside I was breaking down. Mental illness, specifically depression, is a disease that more and more people are being diagnosed with, but many are not being treated for. Depression is often linked to anti-social behavior, and total withdrawal from others. I’ve been at the point in my life where I was so consumed by my own issues that I withdrew from my loved ones in order to “spare them” the ordeal of having to deal with my problems. I’ve since learned this is not the way to go. Everyone needs some sort of human interaction (outside of work).

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