The floor is red with blood. There are eight empty port bottles on the counter. Guppies in an aquarium crave food. The Swiss owner of this house in Den Bosch-Noord bled to death a few days earlier. In a drunken state, he fell on a second aquarium, the police think. A shard in his lower back killed him.

    It is October 2016 when Eric Alink walks into the polluted house. “I looked around and thought: what a sadness, what a tragedy.”

    The Swiss is someone for whom the municipality of Den Bosch arranged and paid for the funeral. In this case: a lonely funeral. Such lonely funerals occur sporadically.

    In such cases, family members and friends are often not (or no longer) in the picture and they are not present at the funeral. Alink tries to make such funerals more personal. As a city chronicler, he often writes for the municipality of Den Bosch about the ‘unnoticed mortals and the forgotten corners of the city’.

    In 2013 he came across the idea that arose in Groningen to hold farewell speeches at lonely funerals. Alink decided to copy it in Den Bosch. “The fact that people have fallen into disrepair does not mean that they do not deserve a dignified farewell,” he says. Together with a municipal official, Alink visits the house of the deceased. He looks inside the house, writes a personal eulogy and reads it aloud during the service.

    “No one should die alone or be buried alone.”

    “While the civil servant is looking for valuables to pay for the funeral, I collect raw materials for a story. Make impressions on who has lived here. What does the kitchen look like? Is there a bookcase? Sometimes I open a drawer. With due observance of the principles of good decency, of course.”

    “It evokes a slight discomfort to step into a house whose owner has never said, ‘I’m glad you’re walking around here.’” Yet Alink sometimes does. “You can tell the degree of civilization in a society by how you deal with the dead. No one should die alone or be buried alone.”

    Quarrels within families are often the underlying reason for lonely funerals. Family members do not want to arrange the funeral of their father, mother, brother or sister. That sounds shocking, but over the years Alink has taken a more nuanced look at it. “There may have been domestic violence, sexual assault or other reasons that people say, ‘I can’t bring myself to say goodbye.'”


    For example, he remembers a deceased person from years ago, where a Bossche official tried to reach his child after days. “They found a son who was on holiday in France. He was asked to come to the Netherlands, to which the man said: ‘White what are you doing? You flick it in the Dieze.’ The end of the conversation.”

    Of the thirteen deceased for whom Eric wrote a eulogy, about half had children. Most were men. Only twice did he write a farewell speech for women. “Apparently men are less able to hold their own in life.”

    Although that is absolutely not the total picture of such a lonely dead person, Eric also saw in Den Bosch-Noord. “I walked through that Swiss man’s house and found a scrapbook full of clippings from better times. They were about him. Apparently, he has received much applause, praise and jubilation as a long-distance runner. He ran half and full marathons in Switzerland. There were newspaper clippings where his name often appears in the first three. Those were books from 35 years ago.”

    “There is a great temptation to only see what you see. But if you look further, you see that someone had many sides. Like this man. He has fallen into disrepair, was known as a care avoider. But such a person has also made a name for himself as a runner. That fascinates me.”

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