Why You May Fear Dying Alone (And How to Cope With It)

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Dying alone has become a stigmatized way of dying in our society. A good death is one where you’re surrounded by those you love when you die. Because of how culture and the media portray what it means to die alone, most people don’t want to die this way. Being alone has somehow translated to being lonely and unhappy. 

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With the number of single-person households in the United States increasing, more and more people now run the risk of dying without anyone there to see them through the final stages of life. The fear and anxiety that stems from the thought of dying alone and no one discovering your body for days can be terrifying for many.

However, a person dying without anyone there to support them as they transition to death is still the minority in our country. Most people will never suffer death without anyone present. 

Is There a Term for the Fear of Dying Alone?

There’s no universal term used to describe the fear of dying alone here in the U.S. In Japan however, the word for fear of dying alone is known as “kodokushi” or “lonely death.” This term's used when someone dies alone, and their death isn’t discovered for a long time after. There doesn’t yet seem to be a word in the English language that conveys this fear. 

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Do People Really Die Alone? 

There are many people around the world who, for whatever reason, end up dying alone. Many people are choosing to live independent lives apart from the people they know and love.

Some choose to forgo marriage or having children, therefore, leaving them to die truly alone. The big question is, what happens to older adults without family or money? Who takes care of their end-of-life needs, funeral planning, and final arrangements?

These are just some of the issues facing people who choose to die alone or through no fault of theirs end up dying this way. 

Some scholars and academics say that we all die alone, even when surrounded by people. They say that the dying process is an individual experience, with death being the ultimate singular experience. For others, dying alone can mean anything from dying without a spouse or partner, children, or have any extended family.

But the reality is, many people do die alone, whether they have a strong support system or plenty of family and friends around. 

Why Are People Afraid of Dying Alone?

Dying alone simply means approaching death alone. For some, this means that they live alone, are unmarried, or do not have a partner or children. For others, it means that they’ve chosen to live an independent lifestyle without maintaining a strong social or support network.

Of course, there are other ways of defining what dying alone means. Each individual person has their own way of finding meaning in the relationships they’ve created or removed themselves from. 

The failure to come to terms with one’s mortality is one of the main reasons contributing to death anxiety. Learning about the death positive movement and how it helps people open up about death and dying can contribute to the lessening of these fears. The following describes some of the more common fears associated with dying alone.  

Fear of being lonely

For many, experiencing loneliness is far more painful than dying alone. Being alone doesn’t necessarily lead to being lonely and can lend itself to many positive experiences. People who choose to be independent and self-sufficient are not more or less prone to dying alone, lonely, and/or isolated.

Being lonely at or near the time of death is a matter entirely on its own. An independent person can take steps to prevent loneliness from seeping in during the finals stages of their life.

Isolation at the end 

Limiting social ties and isolating oneself from others throughout life can negatively affect the dying experience.

People who prefer to be reclusive understand that they've purposefully isolated themselves from a social support network, their family, and loved ones. Dying alone does not equate to a lonely death as one might imagine would stem from the choice to withdraw from others. 

Fear of missing out 

People generally have a desire for connectivity that becomes stronger as they enter the last chapter in life. When you’re facing death and have your friends and loved ones around you to share this transition, those people present give focus and meaning to your life.

The fear of missing out becomes more prevalent during the last days of life because of the regret of not spending quality time with the people who mean the most to you. As death looms nearer, the anxiety of not getting to be a part of your loved ones' lives becomes ever more real. 

Becoming a statistic

Dying alone represents one of the greatest fears for many people. The fear of becoming another statistic can be paralyzing. With no one to call to identify or claim the body, most state agencies rely on friends and family to report the deceased person as a missing person.

Sometimes, that report never happens, particularly when the deceased lived an independent lifestyle. In these cases, they could be living without having an occasional welfare check done and no one knows they’re missing. 

Fear of the unknown

Illusion and denial are two common ways of dealing with the fear of death. They're each a defense mechanism that the mind puts into play when a person is overcome with anxiety over death and dying alone.

Experiencing panic attacks and stress becomes a normal way of life for some who live in constant fear of what'll happen if they die and no one notices. They are afraid of what will happen to them, who will ever know that they've died, and who'll be responsible for their burial or disposition of their remains. `

Tips for Coping With Your Fear of Dying Alone

How can you move beyond the fear of dying alone so that you can create a vision for yourself of how things will be in the end? Western media and society, in general, paint this picture that if you’re unmarried or without a partner at the time of death, you’ve somehow failed at dying successfully. Brooding over your situation has the potential to intensify loneliness and anxiety, giving way to feeling scared of death

How do you cope with the fear of dying alone despite so many variables and possibilities in life? Here are some tips to consider. 

Designate someone to do a check-in

If you’re terrified of dying alone as many people are, it may help you to designate a trusted friend or relative to check in on you from time to time. Welfare checks are how fiercely independent and confident people maintain their autonomy without sacrificing knowing that someone will eventually be alerted to their death.

Whether you’re without a partner, children, or family, it always helps to have someone call or text you every now and then to make sure you’re still around. 

Marriage isn’t an indicator of your death experience

Marriage or partnership isn’t necessarily an indicator of whether you’ll die alone, lonely, and unloved by anyone. Many long-term marriages have experienced the death of a spouse alone during the final moments of their life.

Suffering an episode resulting in death can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anyone, whether they’re married, partnered, or single and independent. When getting the opportunity of saying goodbye to a dying loved one, a marital relationship isn’t an indicator of whether or not that person feels as if they’re dying alone. 

Let the internet become a source of support

Experiencing a crippling fear of dying alone can wreak havoc on you psychologically, physically, and emotionally. Living in large cities or in areas where it’s not customary or usual for friends and neighbors to check in on each other can compound those fears.

If you have no one to turn to or depend on to be your eyes and ears if something goes wrong, consider establishing online relationships over the internet with people you have things in common with. Let everyone know in the groups that you belong to that you’re alone. Set up protocols to be enforced if no one hears from you after a set amount of time. 

Develop a strong social network

If you live independently without any family or friends around to support you or help you in times of need, having a strong social network becomes important. You can meet new people or get to know those already in your life by participating in activities that spark your interest. Try joining clubs, doing volunteer or charity work, getting a part-time job in your neighborhood.

Anything that’ll get you in close contact with your local community helps. Someone will always be aware when you haven’t either been seen or heard for a while. 

Consider a shared living arrangement

An independent person may not like the idea of sharing their living space with anyone else, much less a stranger. But, as you get older, having a shared living arrangement can make the difference between dying alone or having someone there to support you during the last moments of your life. At the very least, you’ll have someone to report your death and help clear out your things. 

Face your fears

One way to overcome your fears of dying alone is to face your fears. Consider making a list of all the things that cause you to feel anxious and tackle them one thing at a time.

If you’re afraid of what’ll happen to your valuables after you die, make a will naming a personal representative to distribute your possessions to those you designate. If you fear not having any money to pay for funeral-related expenses, talk to your local funeral director and set up a death benefit insurance to cover the costs. 

Coping With The Fear of Death

Death anxiety can be paralyzing and with a good reason for many. Planning for the worst-case scenario is a sure-fire way of easing some of those fears. Not everyone who experiences death alone suffers a lonely death. For some, the ultimate goal is to die alone and without being a burden to others. For the rest, making plans on dying a good death is within reach. 

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