During some recent high winds in the north of Italy, the police stopped by the house of a 70-year-old woman to warn her about potential storm damage, only to discover her mummified corpse.
Marinella Beretta had died more than two years previously, and her mummified remains were still sitting up at the table at her home in Prestino, near Lake Como in northern Italy.
Beretta’s neighbors had apparently not seen her for around two and a half years, yet no one raised an alarm, as they thought she’d moved away when the pandemic hit the area in 2020.
Described as “loneliness personified” by editorialist Massimo Gramellini on the front page of Italy’s most popular daily newspaper, the Corriere della Sera, the horrific discovery has rocked her community, and the shock has spread throughout Italy and beyond.
As Italian daily newspaper Il Messaggero so aptly said:
The mystery of Marinella’s invisible life behind the closed gate of her cottage teaches us a terrible lesson. The real sadness is not that the others did not notice her death. It is that they did not realize Marinella Beretta was alive.”
In the Mediterranean country so often associated with family and community, the national statistics institute (ISTAT) reported in 2018 that 40% of Italians over 75 live alone, according to a report in CBS News. And tragically, the same proportion shared that they had no family or friends to lean on in an emergency.
Italy’s Family Minister, Elena Bonetti, shared her thoughts in a Facebook post:
What happened to Marinella Beretta in Como, the forgotten loneliness, hurts our consciences. We have a duty, as a community that wants to remain united, to remember her life… no one must be left alone.”
While it is unbearable to think of the septuagenarian sitting there alone, her death will hopefully serve as a valuable lesson to us all — not only to reach out to the seniors in our lives and community, but to hold on tight to the family unit, from the young to the old.
Pope Francis frequently talks of the elderly in his addresses. Here are just a few of his most pertinent quotes to inspire us all to take better care of our elderly generation:
“Our grandparents, who nourished our own lives, now hunger for our attention and our love; they long for our closeness. Let us life up our eyes and see them, even as Jesus sees us.”
“Brothers and sisters, grandparents and the elderly are bread that nourishes our life. We are grateful to them for the watchful eyes that cared for us, the arms that held us and the knees on which we sat. For the hands that held our own and lifted us up, for the games they played with us and for the comfort of their caress. Please, let us not forget about them. Let us covenant with them. Let us learn to approach them, listen to them and never discard them. Let us cherish them and spend time with them. We will be better for it. And, together, young and old alike, we will find fulfillment at a table of sharing, blessed by God.”
“When a people cares for the old and for the young, and considers them a treasure, there is the presence of God, a promise of future.”